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Is Omer Asik the Key to a Carmelo Anthony Trade?

This hurts just enough to be realistic.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Los Angeles Clippers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

In pouring over trade scenarios to find a way for the Clippers to land Carmelo Anthony, it has become clear that the main catch is Jamal Crawford’s contract. The Clippers have to send it out in order to take Melo back and keep the core four together (otherwise they run into an issue with the hard cap), and nobody seems to want a declining soon-to-be 37-year-old shooting guard who is owed 14 million dollars next season.

We can try to reason through scenarios all day—this team needs shooting guard help, that team could use a veteran presence, another isn’t hurt by Jamal’s big contract. Whatever road we go down, however, we seem to get back to the same place: teams don’t want a player who isn’t especially helpful on a contract that is especially bad.

Crawford, though, doesn’t have the worst contract in the NBA. That honor belongs to Omer Asik of the New Orleans Pelicans.

And I think the Clippers should trade for him.

You see, the ideal package in a Carmelo Anthony trade consists of Austin Rivers, Wesley Johnson, and Paul Pierce. Anthony would have to (get to) waive most of his trade kicker, helping the Clippers fit him in under the hard cap. His incoming salary would be $25,294,900. That means that the Clippers are adding $5,138,980 in salary. With only $2,003,497 in wiggle room underneath the hard cap, that clearly presents problems for the Clippers—they’re over the hard cap, making the trade illegal.

Enter the horrible albatross that is Omer Asik’s contract. His best days are behind him, but he’s still a 7-foot body who rebounds well (12.2 per 36 minutes). His contract, though, is the perfectly horrible deal to fit the Clippers’ need. He makes less than Jamal Crawford, providing LAC with hard cap relief, but has a longer deal, making a swap worthwhile for New Orleans.

While Crawford will make $14,246,988 next season and has $3 million guaranteed for the season after that, Asik will make $10,595,505 next season, $11,286,516 the year after, with $3 million guaranteed the year after that. The Pelicans would save a year of ugliness by taking on Crawford’s salary—in fact, if they really want cap room, they could waive Crawford this summer and stretch his salary, paying him $3.4 million a season for each of the next five years. In any event, they save money long-term, and the Clippers get to save a few million short-term, which they desperately need.

Crawford has a salary of $13,253,012 this season. Asik? $9,904,494. That difference—$3,348,518—along with the Clippers’ wiggle room of $2,003,497, gives the Clippers the room they need to absorb the $5,138,980 difference in salary to acquire Anthony. That leaves the Clippers $213,035 under the hard cap, with 13 players on the roster. We’re good, right?

Well, sort of. There’s one last hurdle to clear—Asik’s contract includes performance incentives classified as “unlikely bonuses” (though some, like bonuses for the team winning 56+ games or making the conference finals, might not be as unlikely as a Clipper). When you add together his potential salary bumps for making the All-NBA team, or being an NBA All-Star, Asik’s deal includes a total of $1,000,000 in bonuses for this season, and while most of that money will never be earned, all unlikely bonuses are counted in hard cap calculations. Now, instead of $213,035 under, you’re $786,965 over the hard cap—we’ve got a little more work to do around the edges.

Here are a few options that the Clippers have to trim some money—just remember, the Clippers have to carry 13 players on the roster, so for everyone they trade they’ll have to sign a free agent:

  • Trade Brandon Bass and/or Alan Anderson: Each of these guys have cap hits of $980,431, so one takes you under the hard cap, but not really by enough money to fill out the roster. A new player signed at this point in the season would have a pro-rated minimum salary (about $250,000 if signed after the trade deadline). A 10-day contract costs about $32,000.
  • Trade Marreese Speights: Must we part so soon? I LOVE Mo Buckets—but the Clippers’ backup center is always going to have a limited impact behind DeAndre Jordan. Mo is likely going to leave for a bigger contract this summer after a great season, and the Clippers are getting a replacement backup center.... it hurts, but it might be worth it. Mo has a salary of $1,403,611, leaving you with over $600,000 in wiggle room.
  • Trade Brice Johnson: It sucks to give up on last year’s first-round pick, but losing Brice doesn’t exactly affect the Clippers’ short-term rotation. He makes $1,273,920, which gives you enough to fill out the roster.
  • Trade Diamond Stone: The Clippers’ second-round rookie only makes $543,471, which isn’t enough to get you under the hard cap alone, but in conjunction with another move it could give the Clippers enough flexibility.
  • Renounce David Michineau: Even though the French point guard is stashed overseas and isn’t on the Clippers’ salary sheet, he counts as $543,471 against the hard cap. Releasing his rights so soon would point towards the foolishness of trading down in the draft and taking him—but holding on to him if that was the necessary move to add Melo? Even more foolish.

Here’s the point: you trade Jamal for Asik, and you’re right on the cusp of being able to pull of a Carmelo Anthony trade. You just need one minor inclusion—like adding Alan Anderson to the Pelicans trade, and giving them cash to cover his salary when they release him. Here’s a good example: Jamal Crawford, Alan Anderson, and cash to cover the remainder of Anderson’s salary to the Pelicans for Omer Asik and the worse of New Orleans’ two second-round picks this year (between them and Philadelphia). Then cut your losses on Michineau (I know, but cutting your losses here is better than moving any of the other guys) to free up another $543,471.

Once you move Rivers, Wesley Johnson, and Pierce for Anthony, that makes for $736,937 in wiggle room under the hard cap and 12 players on the roster. Three open roster spots, and just about enough wiggle room to add three more minimum-salaried free agents to provide guard depth and round out the roster. Not a bad spot to be in.