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Bulls shouldn’t match Rockets’ offer sheet to Omer Asik

The cap hit Bulls would incur if they match HoustRockets’ offer sheet Omer Asik would be too onerous. | Tom

The cap hit the Bulls would incur if they match the Houston Rockets’ offer sheet to Omer Asik would be too onerous. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 21, 2012 6:36AM

LAS VEGAS — It’s self-evident that Omer Asik presents a quandary for the Bulls. But there should never be an ‘‘Omer Asik quandary.’’ Any team that has one has bigger issues than that.

The decision to 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, the Bulls will lose a valuable member of a precious second unit they probably value more than they should, but that unit still will be key to their success until they find a Kevin Durant or Chris Bosh to support Derrick 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-foot Turk suddenly acquires NBA-level hand-eye coordination that two years of intensive tutelage have been unable to develop, there’s 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, which 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 to replace Asik’s impact — if not with Darko Milicic or some other 7-footer, then by mixing and matching some other combination of second-unit players. More minutes for Taj Gibson automatically help 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 $11 million next season, they know all too well how debilitating high salaries can be when they don’t quite fit the production. So whether the Bulls are just kicking the tires on Milicic, it appears they’re already putting a 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, 21, a 7-footer from Lithuania, scored 20 points on 10-for-16 shooting with 12 rebounds — dominating former Illinois center Meyers Leonard, the 14th pick in the June 28 draft — to lead the Rockets’ summer-league team to a 99-88 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

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

Motiejunas was drafted 20th overall by the Minnesota 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 Miami Heat). Mirotic, 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 — Asik shouldn’t be that big a deal. As salary-cap issues go, the ‘‘Carlos Boozer quandary’’ remains a bigger impediment to success.

NOTE: Forward Vladimir Radmanovic and the Bulls agreed to terms on a one-year contract, the team announced Thursday.

Radmanovic, a 6-10, 235-pound 11-year veteran, averaged 4.5 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 49 games last season for the Atlanta Hawks.

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