Rabalais: Pelicans bank on proven big man, not potential

If you wanted the New Orleans Pelicans to make a play for LeBron James, you’re disappointed. And unrealistic.

It looks like the Houston Rockets will angle for the world’s current No. 1 player, though. That has to be part of the reason Houston shipped center Omer Asik to New Orleans in a pre-draft deal Wednesday in exchange for the Pelicans’ 2015 first-round draft pick.

Good luck, Rockets, ever getting to touch the hem of King James’ garment.

Personally, I don’t think James is going anywhere but back to Miami.

But Asik is coming to New Orleans, a chance for the former Rockets starter to emerge from the shadow — make that the eclipse — Dwight Howard cast over Houston’s center position once he arrived from the Los Angeles Lakers last season.

He may be no Howard, but Asik is no turkey.

OK, he is from Turkey, yes. Time will tell if he’s a Turkish delight for the Pelicans, who since grabbing Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers in the first round in 2012 have decided to ply the trades for proven commodities instead of drafting and hoping for a great talent to flower.

It may be a strategy worthy of debate, but for the Pelicans it has proven to be a committed one.

It allowed them to acquire point guard Jrue Holiday from the Philadelphia 76ers last season, finally filling the void left by Chris Paul’s departure to the Los Angeles Clippers in 2011.

Now the Pelicans appear to be another piece closer to completing a playoff-worthy puzzle by acquiring Asik, a player who may keep Davis from eventually having to pick up the pieces of a burgeoning career with a dustpan.

Davis is an MVP-caliber talent, but at 6-foot-10, 220 pounds, he’s no sledgehammer. Beating and banging in the paint with the NBA’s true heavyweights could ultimately endanger his career.

Every slender post player like Davis needs a bodyguard in this league. Asik can fill that role for Davis and provide a defensive presence inside as well.

By doing so, it should allow Davis to flourish away from the basket. He’ll still post up defenders, but not as the dominant thread of his game for all 82 games of the season. Having Asik down low to smooth out the bumps will allow Davis to play more with his face to the goal, expand his jump shot game around the free-throw line, and allow him to create more offense with moves to the basket.

It could be quite entertaining to watch.

Asik is not going to be a scoring machine for the Pelicans. That’s not his job. But as a pre-Howard starter in 2012-13, Asik averaged 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. That kind of stat line would fold very nicely into what New Orleans is trying to do: again become a playoff team in the toughest division of the toughest conference in the NBA.

Numbers like those from 2012-13 by Asik would easily eclipse anything anyone who played the center position gave the Pelicans last season.

All that remains is for everyone to stay healthy. Maybe instead of drafting players Thursday night, the Pelicans’ brass were burning a copy of their team insurance policy as an offering to the basketball gods.

Again, it’s how Asik could pay dividends for the Pelicans. Davis played just 67 games last season, missing the final four games with back problems.

This season the back should be better because Davis won’t have to tote so much of the Pelicans’ hopes around on his long, slender frame.

Some fans won’t be moved by the Pelicans’ approach. And it will take production on the court to prove that New Orleans has chosen the right path away from the draft and toward trying to obtain the winning components from the NBA’s outlet mall.

No LeBron? No, they’re not grasping at pipe dreams at Pelicans headquarters. They’re trying to build with conventional weapons, hoping players like a former Rocket will help them leave the launch pad.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.