Can Sixers do better than Asik for Young?

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Can Sixers do better than Asik for Young?

It was bound to happen. It’s bound to continue. The rumors about potential trades. The speculation about which players might be involved. It is how things go in the NBA, particularly with a team that has assets it could be willing to unload.

The latest report by ESPN -- unconfirmed by CSNPhilly, it should be noted -- speculated that Philadelphia could be “a viable destination” for marginalized Houston Rockets center Omer Asik. The potential price? Thaddeus Young (see story).

The salaries match up. Asik’s cap hit for this season and next is approximately $8.37 million. Following next season, he would become a free agent. Young will make $8.85 million this season and $9.41 million next year. He has a player option for 2015-16 for $9.72 million.

One of the main benefits for the Sixers would be an extra year of possible cap flexibility, since Asik is under contract for just one more season after this while Young could potentially be on the books through the end of the ’15-16 campaign. That’s not nothing. The increased freedom, particularly for a team that’s rebuilding and will already have quite a bit of cap space for the 2014 offseason, is attractive. But is it enough?

Sixers president and general manager Sam Hinkie, who previously worked in the Rockets’ front office, is obviously well-acquainted with Asik and his abilities. Asik is the sort of in-the-paint presence the Sixers currently lack. For his career, Asik averages 53.3 percent shooting from the field, 5.4 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. He doesn’t get to the line that often (2.4 free throw attempts per game), and he doesn’t shoot very well when he does (53.4 free throw percentage).

Asik averages 0.9 blocks per game and 0.4 steals. He’s not a great passer for a big man, averaging 0.6 assists. And unlike Spencer Hawes, Asik doesn’t take shots from distance. Ever. He’s attempted exactly one three-pointer in his career.

Back when he played for the Bulls, Asik was regularly on the court late in games because of his defensive abilities. He’s big. Asik is listed at 7-foot, 255 pounds. If he got regular starter's minutes, particularly in Brett Brown’s system, you’d expect his rebounds, steals and blocks per game to spike significantly.

(The Sixers could certainly use someone in the middle. While they average the second-most points in the paint, they surrender the eighth most.)

But, again, is that enough to unload Young, who’s having a solid season? I’m not sure it is.

Young is averaging 15.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.6 blocks. He’s also taking more three-pointers than he has in four years (see story), and he’s hitting them at a career-best percentage. He’s a good all-around player.

Young is listed at 6-foot-8, 230 pounds. He’s undersized for a power forward, but he’s a willing and capable defender on the interior or perimeter. Between the versatility he’s shown this season, and his reasonable contract, he has to be worth something to a team that’s in playoff contention. Or at least he should be worth more than Asik.

It’s a plus that Asik’s deal would expire after next season. But if he did land in Philly, how would his presence affect Nerlens Noel’s development upon his return? Let’s say both are in a Sixers uniform next season. What kind of minutes would Asik require to be productive and happy? Houston has already learned that Asik can turn pouty if he doesn’t play enough. There were reports that he was scratched from several games this season because he was “so unhappy” with his reduced role that he was “in no state to play.”

Juxtapose that attitude against Young, who has proven to be a quality teammate and professional. Under Doug Collins, Young was asked not to shoot from long range, to treat the three-point line as a “barbed wire fence,” to put on weight, and to serve more as a power forward. He obliged on all fronts. This season, under Brown and his radically different system, he’s been asked to take shots from the outside when he’s open, to carry more of the offensive load, and to guard swingmen and power forwards depending on what’s needed on a given night. He’s obliged on all fronts.

None of that means the Sixers can’t or shouldn’t trade Young. As Young himself said before Monday’s game, “it’s a job” and “a business.” But that doesn’t mean the Sixers have to trade him right now for Asik.

“I see it. I see it pop up on my Twitter page and stuff like that,” Young said when asked if he was aware of the latest trade talk. “When you see that type of stuff, you can’t help but read the article. But, hey, it is what it is. If they see fit to trade me, I have to go. I have to move to the next city and take my family with me, pack my bags and be ready to play the next game the next day.”

He gets it. He understands that he could be here today and gone tomorrow. But if that’s the case, the Sixers should get something more than Asik and his contract that won’t expire until after next season. They can do better -- can’t they?

Best of NBA: Jaylen Brown, Celtics use 5-point possession to top Pistons

Best of NBA: Jaylen Brown, Celtics use 5-point possession to top Pistons

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Jaylen Brown sank a 3-pointer from the right corner while being fouled with 37.6 seconds remaining, part of a five-point possession for Boston that lifted the Celtics to a 104-98 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night.

The Celtics were down 96-95 when Brown connected while being fouled by Marcus Morris. Brown missed the ensuing free throw, but Detroit couldn't come up with the rebound, and Tobias Harris was called for a loose-ball foul. Marcus Smart added two free throws to put Boston up 100-96.

Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 33 points. Andre Drummond had 17 points and 15 rebounds for the Pistons, but he went 1 of 11 on free throws and was taken out for some key possessions toward the end to prevent Boston from fouling him.

Lakers crushed by Spurs in first home game since front office shakeup
LOS ANGELES -- Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points and the San Antonio Spurs routed the Lakers 119-98 on Sunday in Los Angeles' first home game since Magic Johnson took over the franchise's basketball operations.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 16 points for the Spurs, who have won four straight and nine of 11.

Pau Gasol added 15 points against his former team, and the Southwest Division leaders had little trouble with the Lakers, who have lost four straight and 15 of 19.

Five days after owner Jeanie Buss put Johnson in charge of basketball operations, the Lakers' dismal season still hasn't changed much, although new Lakers acquisitions Corey Brewer and Tyler Ennis got limited playing time.

Rookie Brandon Ingram scored a season-high 22 points as the Lakers fell to 19-41, ensuring their fourth consecutive non-winning season (see full recap).

Antetokounmpo scores 28 as Bucks hold off Suns
MILWAUKEE -- Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 28 points, Tony Snell made a clinching 3-pointer from the corner in the closing seconds and the Milwaukee Bucks held off the Phoenix Suns, 100-96 on Sunday.

Michael Beasley added 17 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 15 as the Bucks swept the two-game season series with the Suns. Greg Monroe finished with 14 points and Snell had 13.

TJ Warren led the Suns with 23 points. Alan Williams scored a career-high 17 points and tied his season high with 15 rebounds, while Devin Booker added 15 points and Eric Bledsoe had 11.

Clinging to a one-point lead, the Bucks came out of timeout with Monroe inbounding the ball to Antetokounmpo. He dribbled the clock down before passing to Brogdon, who whipped the ball to Snell in the corner. Snell hit a 3 with a defender flying at him.

Sixers see light after latest round of roster turnover

Sixers see light after latest round of roster turnover

By the time reporters were admitted to the Sixers' locker room some 75 minutes before Friday's home game against Washington, the nameplates above the cubicles previously occupied by Nerlens Noel and Ersan Ilyasova had long ago been changed.

Where Noel once sat, in the corner nearest the shower room, there was now a "47 Splitter" nameplate for veteran center Tiago Splitter, who came over from Atlanta in the deal that sent Ilyasova to the Hawks two days earlier.

Where Ilyasova once sat, between Robert Covington and Dario Saric, there was now a "23 Anderson" nameplate for second-year forward Justin Anderson, acquired from Dallas (with Andrew Bogut, who is expected to head to Cleveland once his contract is bought out) in the trade that sent Noel there.

Across the locker room, there was no nameplate at all above the space once filled by rookie guard Chasson Randle. He had been cut when the two trades went down, collateral damage in this latest upheaval, this latest change to an ever-changing landscape.

Out in the hallway a few minutes earlier, coach Brett Brown had reinforced the message general manager Bryan Colangelo delivered to reporters during a news conference earlier in the day -- that all this had been necessary. Noel and Ilyasova are destined for free agency this summer (Noel will be restricted, Ilyasova unrestricted). The Sixers were unlikely to match any outside offer Noel is sure to attract, and just as unlikely to give Ilyasova the long-term deal he craves.

So, buh-bye.

Brown has grown used to all the tired and huddled masses shuffling through town.

"Historically, we all know how we treat people that walk through a door," he said. "We shake their hand and we say, ‘Guard somebody.’"

He settled on the word "appropriate" to describe all the roster turnover.

"There needs to be a frugal and, at times, ruthless approach," he said, "that you genuinely believe that (a certain player is) a keeper, that ultimately can play in the playoffs and ultimately play deep in the playoffs."

That rationale has not exactly set well with the masses. Not when the haul for two rotational players amounted to two injured 32-year-old centers -- Bogut is always hurt, and Splitter had hip surgery last February -- not to mention a guy who was unable to see regular action for a sub-.500 Dallas club and draft picks of dubious worth.

But if the front office has not inspired confidence, some solace can be taken from what we now see on the court. There are keepers on the roster beyond Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. There are guys the Sixers can hang their hats on. The first two post-deadline games -- Friday's 120-112 victory over the Wizards and Saturday's 110-109 loss to the Knicks -- have proven as much.

Consider Covington. Once a mere spot-up shooter, he can now do a little something off the dribble. And he guards Carmelo Anthony's last-second dagger Saturday notwithstanding.

Covington had 20 points and 10 rebounds in that game, 25 and 11 against Washington.

Then there's Saric, who makes up for whatever he might lack in athleticism with savvy belying his 22 years. The rookie forward stretched his own double-double streak to four by generating 19 points and a career-high 15 rebounds against the Knicks.

He also has the endorsement of Colangelo, who during Friday's presser was asked about the view that the Sixers were returning to their tanking ways this season.

"I think I say Dario Saric, he's the answer (to that question) for us,” he told reporters.

Hey, no pressure, kid.

"Maybe some kind of pressure," Saric said before Friday's game. "For sure it's pressure, but I think I can say it's more attention on me. … But I will try to put everything on the side. I will try to not think so much about what he said. Of course, it's a positive thing, but I will not try to press myself."

He and Ilyasova were close. They shared a position, power forward, and while Ilyasova is from Turkey and Saric from Croatia, they very much spoke the same language.

"He was like some kind of mentor to me," Saric said. "He helped me a lot."

Especially on those occasions when the younger man got down on himself, as he did at times during the first few months of the season.

"He'd say, ‘It's one game. We have another game in 24 hours. You need to change your mindset and be ready for the next game,’" Saric said of Ilyasova.

Without his safety net, and with the expectations of the franchise now resting on his shoulders to some extent, Saric put up 20 points and 11 boards while making his 12th career start Friday night and his first since Feb. 2.

In one glittering second-quarter stretch, he hit a step-back jumper from the mid-post when he found himself in a mismatch against one Washington guard, John Wall, then backed down the other guard, Bradley Beal, and scored with the left hand. There was also an elbow jumper, not to mention a lefty post move over Otto Porter.

"The first 10 minutes, I tried to find myself," Saric said. "OK, I got a couple good assists, a couple good rebounds, but still I tried to find myself. It's a new role. I tried to play, tried to run, tried to find the rhythm of the game, which is most important thing in basketball. I got (into) the game after seven, eight minutes, maybe 10 minutes, and I'm happy. I had a good game, you know?"

Anderson didn’t play, but saw nearly four minutes of daylight against the Knicks, missing his only shot. Splitter, recovering from his hip surgery (as well as resultant calf issues), has not dressed for either game.

"Tiago right now is unhealthy," Brown said Friday.

Which is news to Splitter. Asked when he might be available, he said, "I hope soon. I was in full practice with the Hawks. … I saw the trainer (Kevin Johnson) today. They were happy with what they saw, and see."

Sixers fans, meanwhile, have mostly been seeing red of late. But if they look closely enough, they can see some reason for hope, too.