After the season ended I took a stab at Omer Asik's next contract. I predicted at the time a four year, $42.6 million offer which would decrease over time and be fully guaranteed for the New Orleans Pelicans center. Instead Asik has agreed to a contract that is guaranteed for four years, $44 million with incentives and an unguaranteed fifth year that could push the value of the contract to five years, $58 million. The unguaranteed year is actually an asset for the Pelicans compared to my estimate, although the contract increasing over time instead of decreasing is a small giveaway.
As I wrote reacting to the deal, I worry that Dell Demps negotiated against himself. A number of teams had cap space and the need for a center. The Milwaukee Bucks inked New Orleans native Greg Monroe to a three year, $50 million deal with the third year as a player option. Asik's predecessor, Robin Lopez, agreed to terms with the New York Knicks. A team like the Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, or Los Angeles Lakers could come calling after striking out on previous targets for sure, but the need to do the deal immediately felt rushed to me.
However, that is a truly minor thing in the grand scheme of things. That wait might have lopped a couple million off the top line of the contract, adding up to a mere pittance each season in cap space. The difference between the Pelicans contending or not will not be overpaying Omer Asik by half a million dollars in one season.
Centers are expensive
This is fundamental to understanding what Omer Asik costs relative to his competitors. There are, by my count, 17 teams paying more for their starting center in the league than what the Pelicans will pay Omer Asik next season. That leaves 12 NBA teams paying less than New Orleans. Those teams, and the centers they will hypothetically start, are as follows.
|Boston Celtics||Tyler Zeller||2012 - #17 Pick (Last year Rookie)|
|Cleveland Cavaliers||Timofey Mozgov||Trade|
|Dallas Mavericks||Zaza Pachulia||Trade|
|Denver Nuggets||Jusuf Nurkic||2014 - #16 Pick|
|Detroit Pistons||Andre Drummond||2012 - #9 Pick (Last year Rookie)|
|Indiana Pacers||Jordan Hill||Free Agent Signing|
|Miami Heat||Hassan Whiteside||Minimum Contract|
|Philadelphia 76ers||Jahlil Okafor||2015 - #3 Pick|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||Steven Adams||2013 - #12 Pick|
|San Antonio Spurs||Tim Duncan||Spurs Discount|
|Toronto Raptors||Jonas Valanciunas||2011 - #5 Pick (Last year Rookie)|
|Utah Jazz||Rudy Gobert||2013 - #27 Pick|
That's a whole lot of lottery picks; five including Duncan. In this list I'm assuming the Thunder do not match Portland's max offer sheet to Enes Kanter, making him the starting center for the Trail Blazers. Of this group five will be free agents next summer; Mozgov, Pachulia, Whiteside, Drummond, and Valanciunas. Everyone except Pachulia will likely get a raise to exceed Asik's 2016-17 salary.
Now let's take a look at who costs more than Omer Asik.
|2015-16||2016-17||2017-18||2018-19||Average Cap Hit|
Salary information from Basketball Insiders. I have redone estimates for Gasol, Jordan, Kanter, and Monroe with the new, higher salary cap.
Asik is not, as I have read some places, being paid like a top ten, or even a top 15 center in the NBA. His salary ranks 18th in the league and nearly 20% less than every starting center who signed this off season. Next year when Drummond, Valanciunas, and Mozgov receive large raises Asik may not rank in the top 20. That for a man who has ranked 2nd, 2nd, and 3rd in total rebound rate the past three seasons.
This is not to say that the Pelicans made a perfect choice signing Asik to the contract they did or that there were not options that were potentially more appealing. I remain convinced the Pelicans either negotiated against themselves or were so set on getting that fifth year unguaranteed as a trade chip that they overpaid to some small degree. I see the eventual logic in that play. If Asik performs well he will be grossly underpaid for the duration of this contract; if he deteriorates he becomes a valuable trade chip down the line.
Asik's contract, in the perspective of what a starting NBA center goes for, is a below average. Opinions on Asik's value as a player will continue to vary.