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Bulls need to remember one thing—it’s only Omer Asik

The Bulls will have make tough decisifuture center Omer Asik.  | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

The Bulls will have to make a tough decision on the future of center Omer Asik. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 19, 2012 3:43PM



That the impending Omer Asik quandary is a problem for the Bulls is self-evident. There should never be an ‘‘Omer Asik quandary.’’ Any team that has one has bigger issues than that.

The decision to either match the Houston Rockets’ $25 million contract offer for Asik or allow the backup center to leave has put Bulls vice-president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman in an awkward spot: How do you win that one?

If they let Asik go, they will lose a valuable member of a precious second-unit the Bulls probably value more than they should, but will be key to the Bulls success until the Bulls find a Kevin Durant or Chris Bosh to support Rose. As limited as he is offensively, Asik remains a key chess piece against the Miami Heat. It’s unlikely the Bulls can replace him with a minimum salary.

But if they sign him, Asik will be carrying a $15 million cap hit for 2014-15 like a ball-and-chain for the next three seasons. Unless the 7-0 Turk suddenly acquires NBA-level hand-eye coordination that two years of intensive tutelage have been unable to develop, there is almost no way he’ll be worth a $15 million cap hit. Avoiding offensive fouls on screens is something he can figure out. But he’ll never be an offensive threat if he can’t catch the ball. He’ll be a $15 million defensive specialist — that makes Carlos Boozer seem like a bargain.

Unless cap guru Irwin Mandel is a magician, the prudent move should be clear: Let Asik go. Tom Thibodeau, a noted defensive coach, at least has a chance of replacing Asik’s impact — if not with Darko Milicic or some other 7-footer, than by mixing and matching some other combination of second-unit players. More minutes for Taj Gibson automatically helps fill that void. But the $15 million cap hit is virtually indelible, impossible to erase without pain. Asik has a role in the NBA, but he’s only going to be the next Omer Asik.

With the Bulls paying Boozer $15 million, Luol Deng $13.3 million and Joakim Noah $11million next season, they know all too well how debilitating high salaries can be when they don’t quite fit the production. So whether or not they’re just kicking the tires on Darko Milicic, it appears they’re already putting Plan B in place in anticipation of losing Asik.

Replacing Asik shouldn’t be that difficult. The Rockets already have a better center prospect than Asik and they haven’t even signed Asik yet. Just before the Bulls played their first game in the Las Vegas Summer League on Tuesday night, Donatas Motiejunas, a 21-year-old 7-footer from Lithuania, scored 20 points on 10-of-16 shooting with 12 rebounds — dominating former Illinois center Meyers Leonard, the 14th pick in the June draft — to lead the Rockets’ summer league team to a 99-88 victory over the Trail Blazers.

On Saturday, Motiejunas scored 25 points on 11-of-13 shooting with nine rebounds in a 93-81 victory over the Raptors. He just signed a four-year, $4.2 million contract. It’s just the summer league, but my guess is that Motiejunas will end up being the more cost-efficient investment for the Rockets.

Motiejunas was drafted 20th overall by the Timberwolves last year, then traded to the Rockets for Nikola Mirotic, the 23rd pick. The Timberwolves then traded Mirotic to the Bulls for Norris Cole, the 28th pick (who later was traded to the Heat). Mirotic, currently a rising star in Spain, is still at least two years away from the NBA.

And here’s another “Plan B” that might work for the Bulls: improve offensively so Asik’s 15 minutes a game — and the ‘‘Bench Mob’’ as a whole — aren’t so vital. Which brings us back to the bigger issue — Omer Asik shouldn’t be that big of a deal. As salary-cap issues go, the ‘‘Carlos Boozer quandary’’ remains a bigger impediment to success.



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