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Sunday Discussion: Omer Asik, centers, and the salary cap

As it turns out centers are really expensive in the NBA. Asik is not going to break the bank relative to the cap or his competition.

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

On Wednesday Oleh took a look at how much it might cost to sign Omer Asik. As usual when discussing Asik the trench lines were quickly dug in. Asik is a negative on offense (not nearly as much as you might expect during the second half of the season), his defense is overrated, he can only rebound, he is not getting better on offense. All the typical positions in the anti-Asik camp.

Of course, many of these positions are unfounded. Asik's ORtg has increased for four consecutive seasons according to Basketball Reference; going from 97 in 2011-12 to 112 as a Pelican. His turnover percentage has decreased from a ghastly 25.2% in his final season in Chicago to a more respectable 15.7% in New Orleans. All of this led to his acheiving a career best PER of 15.5; not bad for a defensive specialist who finished third in the NBA in rebound percentage.

There are two things to focus on when considering how much Omer Asik costs. First, what is his cost relative to the salary cap. The absolute dollar amount is less instructive here than the percentage of the cap his presence requires. With the Pelicans lacking cap space this summer his cap hit in the 2016-17 season and going forward is where I spend most of the analysis. Second, is Asik's cost relative to other starting centers. Here's a hint, starting centers are generally very expensive.

Let's take a quick look.

Omer Asik's Cap Hit

I have upped my contract expected for Asik. Now we are looking at a four year, $42.6M contract starting at $12M a year with maximum (7.5%, or $900,000) decreases over the life of the contract. Three sets of data here. The actual dollars per year, the salary cap hit using the NBA's own cap estimates, and the cap cost in 2014-15 (salary cap of $63.065M) cap dollars.

2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19
Actual Salary $12,000,000 $11,100,000 $10,300,000 $9,400,000
Percent of Cap 17.9% 12.5% 9.5% 9.4%
Salary in 2014 Cap Dollars $11,288,635 $7,883,125 $5,991,175 $5,928,110

If we focus on how much is paid out that sounds like a ton of money. To many Pelican fans it is an overpay. When instead you look at the cap hit and especially what that cap hit means in the salary cap the NBA has currently, the story is significantly different. Most everyone (there are those in the anti-Asik camp that think he's not an NBA player, discussing Asik with them is pointless) would agree Asik for under $6 Million a year is an absolute steal; or at least a price they would be willing to pay. That price point also means Asik's contract will be trade-able if the need arises.

Cost Compared to the Competition

Seven foot tall human beings are rare. People that tall with NBA skills are even more so. As such, they get paid accordingly. Below is a chart, sorted by average cap hit, of 18 starting NBA centers in the NBA. There are a couple of assumptions here. Marc Gasol is going to get a maximum contract, and DeAndre Jordan might as well. Both are estimated signing with their current teams, gaining the 7.5% raises only Memphis and the Clippers can offer.

Greg Monroe is going to sign somewhere that isn't Detroit and will likely be playing center. $14 Million in his first year with 4.5% raises (the max allowed when moving in free agency) is likely under what he gets on the market this season. Tyson Chandler is probably going to sign for a couple years, but for this I just put him at one with a $12 Million hit; likely under what he makes as well. Enes Kanter at $12 Million is an estimate from Welcome to Loud City's look at the salary cap for the Thunder. The same is true with Robin Lopez and Blazer's Edge.

2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 Average Cap Hit
Dwight Howard $22,359,364 $23,282,457 $22,820,911
Marc Gasol (?) $18,639,102 $20,037,034 $21,434,967 $22,832,899 $20,736,001
DeAndre Jordan (?) $18,639,102 $20,037,034 $21,434,967 $22,832,899 $20,736,001
DeMarcus Cousins $15,851,950 $16,957,900 $18,063,850 $16,957,900
Brook Lopez $16,744,218 $16,744,218
Roy Hibbert $15,514,031 $15,514,031
Greg Monroe (?) $14,000,000 $14,630,000 $15,260,000 $15,890,000 $14,945,000
Joakim Noah $13,900,000 $13,900,000
Al Jefferson $13,500,000 $13,500,000
Marcin Gortat $11,217,391 $12,000,000 $12,782,609 $13,565,218 $12,391,305
Nikola Vucevic $11,250,000 $11,750,000 $12,250,000 $12,750,000 $12,000,000
Tyson Chandler (?) $12,000,000 $12,000,000
Robin Lopez (?) $12,000,000 $12,000,000 $12,000,000 $12,000,000 $12,000,000
Enes Kanter (?) $12,000,000 $12,000,000 $12,000,000 $12,000,000 $12,000,000
Al Horford $12,000,000 $12,000,000
Nikola Pekovic $12,100,000 $12,100,000 $11,600,000 $11,933,333
Andrew Bogut $12,000,000 $11,027,027 $11,513,514
Omer Asik $12,000,000 $11,100,000 $10,300,000 $9,400,000 $10,700,000

Salaries from Basketball Insiders

All these players and we're still missing a couple. Andre Drummond, Jonas Valanciunas, Hassan Whiteside, and Timofey Mozgov all become free agents in 2016-17; the first year of the exploding salary cap. Drummond may command a maximum salary, starting at $21 Million. Valanciunas, Whiteside, and Mozgov will receive healthy raises from their current contracts.

Omer Asik is unlikely to be one of the 20 highest paid centers as early as 2016-17; the first year the big contract for Anthony Davis kicks in and the Pelicans have functional cap space to bring in another big star to the Crescent City. His expense relative to both the salary cap and the cost of a starting center in the NBA is going to be much lower than the absolute dollars suggest. Not a bad deal for an excellent defender, an elite rebounder, and an improving offensive player.