Some media outlets in Houston are triumphing the fact that Omer Asik could begin playing for the Houston Rockets again in another seven to 10 days. As if Asik is dying to get back out on the court with this team.
Jeff Van Gundy — the former Rockets coach who's turned himself into the best color commentator in all of TV sports — knows better. And he's not about to engage in the Fantasyland spin zone that seems to mark much of the NBA reporting in town. Instead, Van Gundy is laying into Asik, holding up the center who won't play as a symbol of what's wrong with professional basketball today.
"He's basically holding the Houston Rockets hostage because he's not starting," Van Gundy said of Asik in a recent national TV rant. "I don't care what anyone says — he's still not unable to play. And it's wrong."
"He's basically holding the Houston Rockets hostage because he's not starting."
Asik has sat out the last 31 games with an injury that was initially described as a "bruised thigh." It later got upgraded to some nebulous right thigh/knee issue. As Van Gundy notes, the maladies suddenly started crippling Asik after the Rockets scraped that new Twin Towers idea and enraged Asik by pulling him from the starting lineup. This spurred a new round of trade demands from the Turkish center.
Van Gundy noted that Asik used to be "one of my favorite players" in a rant during ESPN's special Saturday Night showcase game between the Miami Heat and the New York Knicks Super Bowl weekend. But it's clear the coach has seen enough — more than he can stomach in fact.
"I mean, play for your team!" Van Gundy said. "Play for your teammates! It's been three months."
Asik hasn't played since Dec. 2 — and the Rockets have suffered several baffling performances without the services of the game-altering rebounder, including two defeats to Sacramento, back-to-back losses to Memphis, a 19-point second half against Oklahoma City and an 80-point showing in Atlanta.
The 7-foot center spends most home games on the very last seat of the Rockets bench, watching stone faced (when he's watching at all). If Asik moved any farther from Rockets coach Kevin McHale on the bench, he'd fall into an usher's lap. He's a spectator in every sense of the word.
Asik is clearly waiting for the inevitable trade that Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has taken to pretending will not happen. Van Gundy is clearly not going to pretend everything is fine though.
He's not going to hide what's happening with a player who happily averaged 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds in his first year as a full-time NBA starter last season, helping the Rockets snap a playoff drought. The Rockets' ballyhooed signing of All Star center Dwight Howard in the offseason may have completely changed Asik's role, but Van Gundy cannot stand the reality that it's also clearly changed the center's commitment.
The coach still in Van Gundy finds the situation impossible to stomach. So he unleashes — and refuses to dodge any uncomfortable truths.
On a Rockets team with a demoted (for little apparent fault of his own) Jeremy Lin who continues to put up numbers and help steal wins while coming off the bench, Asik's sit out is even more pronounced.