Omer Asik’s season appears to be over, which doesn’t constitute major news on its own, because the Turkish 7-footer’s minutes have steadily declined since he joined the New Orleans Pelicans three years ago, but it’s how his 2016-17 campaign is coming to a close that is both noteworthy and concerning. Asik reportedly contracted a bacterial infection in Mexico during the All-Star break, and while Alvin Gentry initially said the center’s health was not considered a serious concern, the Pelicans coach told ESPN.com’s Justin Verrier this weekend Asik “will be gearing toward the summer and next year, really.”
Reports earlier this month suggested Asik had lost a “significant” amount of weight, and a fan’s photo circulating on social media of the once bulky 255-pound big man from a recent Pelicans game in New Orleans — his first public appearance since contracting the infection — seems to reflect those reports: “He went through a tough time trying to see what was wrong with him,” Gentry told ESPN.com before Friday’s win over the Denver Nuggets. “I think it’s a slim chance that he’ll be back playing this year.”
Asik has been listed on the team’s injury reports each game since the All-Star break with an illness. The hope is that doctors have identified the ailment and can restore his health as soon as possible.
After starting 18 of his team’s first 22 games during a disappointing 7-15 start to the season, Asik had already seen his minutes slashed. He appeared in just three games after Christmas, playing a total of 14 minutes, and hasn’t played since a brief 4:37 stint against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Feb. 10.
Once an elite rim protector and rebounder, Asik averaged a double-double as the starting center for the Houston Rockets in 2012-13. He lost his job to Dwight Howard the following year, and the Pelicans traded a first-round pick for him in July 2014. Despite signs that his play was already in decline in his first season in New Orleans, the Pels signed him to a five-year, $58 million contract extension in 2015.
Like many of his teammates, Asik battled injuries throughout 2015-16, when he averaged just four points and 6.1 rebounds in 17.3 minutes per game. Entering 2016 training camp, Asik told the media in an almost eerie statement looking back, “Last season really left a bad taste, so we are really working hard to change that. My whole focus this summer was to get better physically and get stronger.”
Yet, his production and minutes declined even further this season, and the trade for DeMarcus Cousins at the All-Star break ensured Asik would remain a reserve center for the foreseeable future, even before he returned from the break with the bacterial infection that left him “struggling.”
With Davis locked up long-term, Cousins under contract next season and Alexis Ajinca signed to an affordable deal through 2018-19, the Pelicans would no doubt like to trade Asik this summer. However, the two years and $21.9 million remaining on his deal combined with his decrease in effectiveness already made him a difficult sell, and now his health remains a concern entering the offseason.
The best thing for everybody involved is to ensure the Turkish center returns to health — first and foremost. What lies ahead after that for Asik, who will turn 31 years old on July 4, no one can be sure. (Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don’t Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports.)
Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07