There likewise are league sources who have maintained all month that the Rockets' plan to trade Asik by Dec. 19 -- as first reported by ESPN.com on Dec. 6 -- was hatched in part because of general manager Daryl Morey's confidence in being able to strike a deal with Philadelphia, where former Rockets assistant general manager Sam Hinkie is now running the Sixers' front office.
Sources say the prospect of acquiring center Spencer Hawes and at least one future first-round pick would be Houston's aim in a trade with Philadelphia, although it's believed the Rockets and Sixers also would require at least one more team to complete a deal. Hawes not only possesses a cap-friendly expiring contract valued at $6.6 million this season but also has the offensive skills and shooting range -- unlike Asik -- to be able to play alongside Howard as well as back him up.
ESPN.com reported Sunday that Celtics forward Brandon Bass is another possible trade target for the Rockets, despite the fact that his contract runs for one more year than Hawes' deal.
Sources say the Rockets are conflicted about taking back Philadelphia's Thaddeus Young or the Celtics' Green because each player has two more seasons left on his contract after this one. If either Young (owed $19.4 million in 2014-15 and 2015-16) or Green (owed $18.4 million over the same span) is involved in the eventual Asik trade, Houston almost certainly will need a third team to absorb the contract of either player. The Rockets need to maintain as much future flexibility as possible to re-sign forward Chandler Parsons, who quickly has blossomed into a key cog in Houston and will command a huge raise when he eventually makes it to free agency.
The combination of a thigh injury and Asik's clear frustration since being dropped from Houston's starting lineup in mid-November has limited him to just eight games since Nov. 20, with stints ranging from seven to 23 minutes in those appearances off the bench behind Howard. Houston tried playing Howard and Asik together and initially was hesitant to entertain trade offers for the 27-year-old, based on the premise that the luxury of having either Howard or Asik on the court at all times was too valuable to surrender so quickly. However, Asik's angry reaction to losing his starting spot changed the dynamic.
The Rockets began calling potential trade partners Dec. 6 to inform them that they were determined to deal Asik between Dec. 15 and Dec. 19, hoping that establishing such an exact time frame would persuade potential suitors to put their best offers on the table quickly. Houston established that window because Dec. 15 was the first day most players who signed new contracts in the offseason could be plugged in to trades and because Dec. 19 is the last day any player involved in any trade can be repackaged with other players in an subsequent deal before the league's Feb. 20 trade deadline.
Asik has wanted a new address from the moment Howard arrived in July and privately has requested a trade numerous times in the months since, sources said. He started his first 90 games as a Rocket after signing as a free agent in the summer of 2012 before declaring himself unavailable to play the Knicks in New York on Nov. 14, snapping a streak of 239 consecutive games played in the regular season. Asik is averaging a mere 18.3 minutes per game, down from last season's career high of 30.3, and is averaging just 4.4 points and 6.8 rebounds.