HOUSTON — 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 per game 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.
The acquisition of Asik is the latest in a flurry of moves for Houston this offseason, headlined by the acquisition of Jeremy Lin. The Rockets have missed the playoffs three straight years, and Morey has virtually reconstructed the roster.
HINRICH RETURNS TO BULLS: The Chicago Bulls will be without one familiar face for much of the coming season, so they're bringing back another to help fill the void.
Kirk Hinrich returned to the Bulls on Tuesday. The nine-year veteran rejoins the team that drafted him in 2003 and with which he played his first seven professional seasons.
"We went into this offseason, it was probably our biggest priority to get a combo guard," Bulls general manager Gar Forman said. "He knows his teammates. We just think it's going to be a perfect fit not just for the coming year, but for the future."
Hinrich will likely start at point guard for Chicago while star Derrick Rose rehabilitates from left knee surgery. The MVP of the 2010-11 season is expected to be out until at least January, though recent reports suggest that Rose may not return until March.
When Rose returns, Hinrich will likely become a key part of a revamped Chicago bench.
Rose and Hinrich started 50 games during the 2009-10 season, during which Chicago went 31-19.
Now 31, Hinrich has been plagued by injuries since leaving the Bulls, missing a total of 28 games the last two seasons with Washington and Atlanta. Last season, he averaged a career low 6.6 points for the Hawks.
WIZARDS SIGN FREE AGENT GUARD: The Washington Wizards signed free agent guard A.J. Price on Tuesday. Price, who played three seasons with the Indiana Pacers, will give the team depth in the backcourt, team president Ernie Grunfeld said. He'll be a backup for Wizards guard John Wall.
The 6-foot guard has averaged 6 points, 2 assists and 1.5 rebounds in 150 games in the last three seasons with the Pacers.
KNICKS SIGN POINT GUARD FROM ARGENTINA: The New York Knicks have signed Pablo Prigioni, the point guard for Argentina's national team. The 35-year-old Prigioni has played professionally since 1995, most recently in the Spanish leagues. He was twice selected to the All-Euroleague second team.
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