Rockets Trade Asik to New Orleans, and So the Dominos Begin to Fall

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If we learned anything from last summer's pursuit of Dwight Howard, it's that these things happen in stages.

It starts with a hope, a dream, and lots of time spent on ESPN's Trade Machine. Then, it continues with sportsbooks posting odds on the likelihood of success. It continues with the major outlets (basically, Adrian Wojnarowski and everyone else) reporting mutual interest between team and player.

And then the actual dominos begin to fall. Trades, transactions, moves.

Wednesday night, in 2014's version of the Great Chase for the Houston Rockets, the first domino fell. We say "goodbye" to Omer Asik.

This summer, for Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, it's all about finding the third big star to place alongside James Harden and Howard. LeBron James is the lotto ticket, Carmelo Anthony would be a good prize, and names like Kevin Love and Rajon Rondo hover around the margins.

These are the hopes and dreams.

Sportsbook.ag weighed in earlier in the week on LeBron James' and Carmelo Anthony's future whereabouts, and as of Wednesday night, here's what they said:

LEBRON JAMES - WHERE WILL HE PLAY 1ST GAME OF 2014/2015 NBA SEASON Chicago Bulls +1500 Cleveland Cavaliers +450 Dallas Mavericks +3000 Houston Rockets +1000 Los Angeles Clippers +700 Los Angeles Lakers +2500 Miami Heat -600 New York Knicks +2000

CARMELO ANTHONY - WHERE WILL HE PLAY 1ST GAME OF 2014/2015 NBA SEASON Boston Celtics +5000 Chicago Bulls -150 Dallas Mavericks +1000 Houston Rockets +500 Los Angeles Clippers +2500 Los Angeles Lakers +2000 Miami Heat +400 New York Knicks +160

So according to oddsmakers, the Rockets are moderate longshots to land either player, but the oddsmakers have been known to be wrong before. So along came the next step in the free agency chase process, the reports of mutual interest from "plugged in sources":

That's Carmelo's situation. In an ESPN Insider piece, Broussard said that LeBron James has five potential landing spots: Miami, Cleveland, Houston, New York, and Brooklyn. That's a surprising list considering that neither Chicago nor the Clippers are on there, as the Bulls have an attainable path to open up cap space to get James and the Clippers have one of James' closest friends playing point guard (Chris Paul).

So the Rockets are reportedly in the mix for both big names, and if you believe Broussard, there's a scenario where they could acquire both, assuming the Rockets are willing to part with James Harden in a sign-and-trade:

In any event, assuming the Rockets obtain the cap room to sign James or Anthony, the next step would be to give up star guard James Harden in a sign-and-trade for whichever superstar (James or Anthony) they don't sign as a free agent. Faced with the prospect of losing their superstars, both New York and Miami would be open to accepting Harden in a sign-and-trade.

Wow. I mean...seriously, wow.

Ok, so basically, the Rockets have basically downloaded their NBA free agency Tinder app, swiped LeBron and Carmelo, and they've swiped back. Now comes some of the Rockets' heavy lifting -- unloading the necessary clutter to open up cap space to welcome one of them into the fold.

That started Wednesday night, as the Rockets traded center Omer Asik (and $1.5 million in cash) to the New Orleans Pelicans for a 2015 first round pick, as first reported by Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski:

The Houston Rockets have reached agreement on a trade to send center Omer Asik to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for a future first-round draft pick, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

For the Rockets, this is the first step in clearing salary-cap space to pursue LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony in free agency.

The Rockets will acquire what will likely be a late lottery pick, possibly as soon as 2015, from the Pelicans, sources said.

Asik gives the Pelicans a rim protector and defender to pair with star forward Anthony Davis.

Asik had asked for a trade a year ago, wanting out of Houston after the team signed free agent Dwight Howard to become its starting center. Asik was injured for parts of the past season and averaged 5.8 points and 7.9 rebounds. As Houston's starting center two years ago, he averaged 10.1 points, 11.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks.

So if we are assessing best case/worst case scenarios with respect to this deal, it goes like this:

BEST CASE: The first domino has dropped in a sequence of moves that will lead to one or both of the big free agents ending up in Houston. The next move will be considerably more difficult. That's trading Jeremy Lin and the final year of his deal (identical to Asik's, $15M in salary, $8.3M in cap space) without taking any salary back.

WORST CASE: The Rockets come up empty in chasing LeBron and Carmelo, but still have an extra first round pick in 2015 as a trade asset, and have cleared out $8.3M in cap space to pursue some bench help.

Let the madness continue! Please....

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.

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