HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Rockets have their center of the immediate future. No, it's not Dwight Howard.
The Rockets announced Tuesday that Turkish big man Omer Asik is headed to Houston after the Chicago Bulls decided not to match their three-year, $25 million offer sheet.
The 7-foot Asik averaged 3.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and one block in 66 games last season. He helped Turkey earn the silver medal at the 2010 FIBA world championship. Turkey didn't qualify for the 2012 OIympics in London.
"A defensive presence in the middle, a 7-footer that we haven't had for some time," general manager Daryl Morey said.
The Rockets have needed a solid big man since Yao Ming retired last summer, his career derailed by foot injuries. Houston has reportedly been in the mix to land the All-Star Howard, but so far, Orlando seems content to keep him for now.
Asik averaged 14.7 minutes per game last season, playing behind Joakim Noah for the Bulls. He'll be Houston's starter heading into training camp, barring another acquisition, and Morey is confident that he can smoothly make the transition to that role.
"Free agency is very hard to find players to add in and have them fit into the overall structure of what we're trying to do," Morey said. "One way to do it is to find a guy, who hasn't played much, that we really believe in, and then add him to our team. We think he's a 10-plus-a-night rebound guy, one of the best defensive bigs in the league."
Morey concedes that Asik needs to show improvement on the offensive end. Asik is averaging only 2.9 points in his two NBA seasons.
"He's right now, a one-way defensive presence," Morey said. "We think that's the most important thing for your '5 man' (center) to be. Obviously, he has upside to his offensive game, because it's limited right now."
Asik was a second-round pick by Portland in the 2008 draft, and he was immediately traded to Chicago. He played in Turkey until joining the Bulls before the 2010-11 season. He broke his left fibula in Game 3 of the 2011 Eastern Conference finals against Miami, but recovered in time to play the entire 2011-12 season.
"I'm really looking forward to working with Omer," Houston coach Kevin McHale said. "I've admired his physical style of play over the past two seasons as he's made the transition to the NBA. In his limited minutes, he has proved himself to be an exceptional defensive post player and we will be working with him to continue his progress. Omer has a great understanding of how to play defense and how to move without the ball and I know he will fit in very well with our needs in the low post."