New Orleans Pelicans Reportedly Bringing Back Omer Asik

The New Orleans Pelicans have reportedly agreed to terms with unrestricted free agent center, Omer Asik. The contract is for 5 years with an aggregate total value of around $58,000,000, along with incentives throughout and some non-guaranteed money in the final year.

General Notes

  • Asik was acquired by the Pelicans for a first round pick in the recent draft (18) and some filler contracts. He had just one year left on his deal. There was worry at the time by some that he would not re-sign with the team, but the team felt confident in bringing the center back.
  • Asik turns 29 on July 4th. His age each season through the contract will be 29, 30, 31, 32, 33. Since the final year is not fully guaranteed, one can view the contract as doubly expiring starting after the third season, at age 31. For reference, Tyson Chandler, a more complete center on the free agent market, commanded a 4-year deal at age 33 (when the season starts) worth about $13m per season. This is about $2m more per season for the older center.
  • Asik was acquired to both keep Davis from playing center against the biggest men in the game and also freeing up Davis to roam more on offense and defense. Additionally, Asik’s main role is on defense. He protects the paint well, even against guards, rebounds extremely well, and is savvy. He is by no means fleet-of-foot or graceful in a scoring or general ball-handling capacity, but the team has those skills in abundance. There are more complete centers, but they come with higher financial, and other, costs, as noted above. He also brings skills missing from the rest of this team.
  • The Southwest Division is loaded with talented big men, and that number is set to climb. The formula that we hear about the new NBA may have something to it, but the Cavaliers spent most of the season trying to get their big man, the Warriors have theirs, and the entire Southwest Division . . . and their big men . . . made the playoffs. There is a need for this team at this time to be able to battle against very good big men to make the progress they want to make.

More Detail

  • Asik was signed using Bird Rights, which the Pelicans were able to maintain since he spent 2 seasons in Houston who traded him to New Orleans prior to his lone season as a Pelican. This allows them to preserve their salary cap exceptions to sign role players from the market. In other words, the value of this signing is partially yet-to-be-determined. Signing another center off the market would have to have been done by trading an asset or using the Mid-Level Exception. The MLE has not done much to grab good big men so far this offseason (1 day), and this fact is historically true. As only Asik could have been signed using his Bird Exception, the choice is a sub-$6m center or Asik and whoever you get for the MLE. So . . . patience on fully evaluating the deal.
  • The deal seems to have the following structure: $10m, $10.75m, $11.5m, $12.25m, $13m (not fully guaranteed). This structure leads to a total of $44.5m in the first 4 seasons, $57.5m total. Incentives of $250,000 – $500,000 could be included, along with a couple million of guaranteed money in the final season. The details should come to light in the next few days or following the moratorium through leaks.
  • Asik is justifiably criticized for his short-comings, but he is unjustifiably ignored for what he does well.
    • He is an excellent rebounder. His Offensive Rebound Rate last season was 14.0, good for 8th in the NBA among players logging at least 1000 minutes. His Defensive Rebounding Rate is 28.8, good for 6th in the NBA in the same pool. In terms of total rebounding, the rate is 21.4, good for 4th in the NBA in that 1000+ minute pool. The only available player with better total rebounding rate is Deandre Jordan, who is choosing from a number of max deals.
    • His PER, which favors scoring to a degree, is 15.5, which is a little above average. Among players who are poorer scorers, this is a little above a little above average. His WS/48 is 0.12 which is above average, as well. While there are clear deficiencies in his play, what he does well more than overturns those by high-level metrics, all while excelling as a rebounder.
    • His Offensive Rating – Defensive Rating, an important statistic in evaluating effectiveness of play, was 7, which was second highest on the team among players with at least 1000 minutes. Ajinca as his 957 minutes had a difference of 10, Babbitt 7 in 830 minutes, and Withey 11 in 283 minutes. See a pattern? For reference, Davis led the team at 22. Jrue and Quincy were the only other players with positive differences, 2 and 4 respectively.
  • This contract puts his non-guaranteed season as the last season prior to Davis’ option season. Therefore, the team has the option to dump him if they feel forced to trade Davis early (see: Chris Paul) or to try to make a last ditch effort to change directions in that final year non-option year. Dell has used non-guaranteed contract to great advantage (see: acquiring Lopez, Asik).
  • Considering the first 4 seasons of the deal as that is the only real commitment he got from the team or all 5, Asik’s new contract is worth about what his prior contract was, on average, once the anticipated jump in the salary cap is taken into account. In both cases, his deal is worth about an eighth of the projected salary cap. This is not true this season (worth a larger share), and it will be untrue in the opposite direction (better value) after the ballooning of the cap. In other words, adjusting for NBA-inflation, his new deal is on average at least as good as his old deal. This deal like likely fairly tradeable, provided Asik is healthy, and maybe heatlth is not even required as the deal approaches the final season (see: Rashard Lewis contract).
  • There is worry that a player like Asik will not fit with Gentry. There are also natural comparisons to the Golden State team of the past season, with Asik paralleling Bogut, but with worse offense. I take such parallels with a grain of salt, because Steph Curry needs a way different supporting cast than Davis. Gentry got the job in part based on his pitch about how to use Davis, particularly on offense. I find it very unlikely that they signed Asik without reasonable expectations of being able to use him according to Gentry’s plan or to trade him. Keeping Davis farther from thr basket on defense more often will lead to more and better offense.
  • The deal can not be formally signed unitl July 9th due to the moratorium. This is standard across the NBA. The verbal agreements are effectively binding.

Earlier in the day, the Pelicans inked Anthony Davis to a massive contract extension. Later, they gave the recently married Alexis Ajinca a new contract, rounding out their front court for the season, as Ryan Anderson is under contract for his fourth and final season. The qualifying to Jeff Withey was rescinded, and he is an unrestricted free agent. The Pelicans can still go over the cap to sign him to a larger-than-minimum contract using Early Bird Rights.

The Pelicans still have some of their own free agents they can sign, plus the MLE and Bi-Annual Exception to work with before they are left only with trades and minimum salaries to improve the team.

Be sure to check out the open thread and @BourbonStShots for updates and analysis.

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