Almost nobody hopped into free agency more aggressively than the Houston Rockets. As soon as teams could tender offer sheets to restricted free agents, the Rockets went and submitted bids on center Omer Asik and point guard Jeremy Lin. The Rockets did so knowing that Asik's and Lin's respective teams, the Bulls and Knicks, probably would match, but hoping they would not.
After the Brooklyn Nets took themselves out of trade talks with the Orlando Magic for Dwight Howard on Thursday, the Rockets reportedly ramped up their efforts to get the All-Star center. Houston appears not to be swayed by Howard's often repeated assertion that he will not sign an extension with anyone but the Nets. The Rockets' aggressiveness now appears to have put them in a potentially problematic situation.
Knicks coach Mike Woodson confirmed everyone's expectations when he stated that the Knicks would match the Rockets' offer to Lin. Yet the Bulls apparently are wavering over whether to match the four-year offer sheet to Asik, having already committed $47.1 million over the next three years to power forward Carlos Boozer, $48 million over the next four years to center Joakim Noah and needing to re-sign power forward Taj Gibson at the end of the 2012-13 season. If the Bulls do not match, the Rockets would be morally obligated to sign Asik, lest they scare away any free agents who might be tempted to sign offer sheets with them in the future.
Signing Asik would complicate the Rockets' pursuit of Howard. The Rockets have already begun the massive salary dump necessary to acquire Howard and the motherload of hefty contracts the Magic would surely require the Rockets to take on. Luis Scola, a competent big man whose only crime is not being Howard, is reportedly set to be released via the amnesty clause, and Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Chris Duhon are believed to be a part of any deal that would send Howard to Houston. Any payroll flexibility the Rockets might have in the form of rookie contracts for Jeremy Lamb, Royce White or Terrence Jones would likely be headed to Orlando, as would the draft pick Houston acquired in the Wednesday trade that sent Kyle Lowry to Toronto, according to an ESPN report.
So in an odd twist, the Rockets have to be pulling for the Bulls to match their offer sheet to Asik. Otherwise, the Rockets would be dedicated to further clogging up their payroll with some $25 million for the Turkish 7-footer. Although "winning" the Asik sweepstakes would not necessarily take the Rockets out of the running for Howard, it would force some more roster magic, such as waiving a whole host of players on smaller, nonguaranteed contracts.
If anybody can get this deal done, it is the Rockets. They were able to stock up on some of those waiver candidates by trading 38-year-old center Marcus Camby to the Knicks on Wednesday, and they were the keystone in the voided deal last summer that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers (and would have brought back a better collection of talent for the Hornets than the eventual trade that sent Paul to the Clippers). Houston has been inventive where other teams have been conservative over the past three years, so do not underestimate that front office's ability to make something work.
If the Bulls would just match that Asik offer, though, things would be much simpler for the Rockets.