HOUSTON — Omer Asik is back.
Back on an NBA bench, where he spent the first two years of his NBA career with the Bulls.
Back in a subservient role because the Rockets won the Dwight Howard derby over the summer.
Back in uniform after taking a couple of games off for a pout, regrouping, walkabout or whatever it is they call a hissy fit in his native Turkey.
Asik, the 7-foot center who acquitted himself quite well during his first season in Houston by averaging a double-double and giving the Rockets needed rim protection, was finally back on the court Tuesday night. But not until there was only 6:49 left in a thumping of the overmatched Celtics.
He made a layup, missed two others, sank a pair of free throws and did his usual post-game bolt from the locker room that is his quickest move on any given night.
“I just want to help my team,” was all Asik would say when tracked down in a hallway of the Toyota Center.
Most likely, the next time Asik helps his team it will be with him wearing a different uniform and the only way he’ll give the Rockets any more help is with what he brings them in return.
With Howard in the middle, Asik wants out, a sentiment he made quite clear in the immediate aftermath of Howard’s announcement that he was relocating to Houston.
On one hand, you can fault coach Kevin McHale for wanting to see what kind of monster he could construct from a “twin towers” lineup of Howard and Asik. After all, he played quite happily and won three championships along side Robert Parish in Boston.
These however are different times and no one will ever confuse Howard and Asik with McHale and “The Chief”. In their time together on the court through the first couple weeks of the season, they were horribly inefficient on offense and almost as weak on defense.
So it it was only a matter of time until McHale pulled the plug on his grand experiment, which occurred last week when Asik played less than five minutes of an overtime loss in Philly and then told the coach he wasn’t available the following night in New York against the Knicks.
Now Asik is available. Having demanded a trade, then skipping the next game at home against Denver due to “an illness,” it’s only a matter of time until the Sultan of Swap, G.M. Daryl Morey, sends him packing. Despite the fact that Asik is the top name on every list of trade candidates, it will probably not happen until at least Dec. 15, the date that most players acquired over the summer are eligible to be dealt and it could linger on until the February trade deadline.
Morey’s dilemma is getting what he considers fair value in return for a player when his market has been depressed by Asik’s actions. There’s also the matter of getting someone to swallow that nearly $15 million he’s due on his contract next season.
But it has to happen. The truth is that once Asik has shown his petulant colors and abandoned his team, there is no going back to having full faith for a club trying to be a contender. On the other side, if you’re a would-be trade partner, would the Celtics even think for an instant about giving up Rajon Rondo, the Lakers trading Pau Gasol, anybody giving up anything truly significant for a player that folded his tent in the face of a professional challenge?
Asik returned the Rockets, apologized to his teammates and gave his mea culpa to reporters at the Tuesday morning shootaround.
“I was just frustrated,” he said. “It’s behind me now. I’m just looking forward to help my team win.”
Teammates Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons said all the right things about accepting Asik back into the fold, but they’re not naive, just good soldiers. They’ve watched Terrence Jones step into Asik’s spot in the starting lineup the past several games and ring up an impressive 24 points on 10-for-12 shooting and grab nine rebounds in just 27 minutes of the thumping on Boston.
The lifeless expression on McHale’s face said everything when he was asked what Asik had to do to earn more than six-plus minutes of playing time.
“There’s another game (tonight in Dallas),” he said. “Everybody is out there playing. We’ll see where the time goes with Omer.”
Right out the door.