Today we continue our look at all of the veteran centers around the league whose names have been linked with the Blazers so far this off-season. Yesterday we covered centers from Atlanta through the Lakers. Today we begin with Memphis (Miami, really...Portland can't touch Marc Gasol) and we won't stop until we've made it all the way to Washington! Enjoy!
Chris "Birdman" Andersen, Unrestricted Free Agent, Miami Heat
He blocks shots, rebounds, and can give you 10-15 good minutes as a backup center. He was fishing for 10-day contracts this year and got picked up by the Heat so you know he's not going to be expensive. Even though he'll turn 35 this year he'd be worth a look if he's still floating around when the season starts. If the Blazers don't already have back-up help, that is.
Skill-wise, this guy has everything you'd want. He's not a recent revelation. He's been a great rebounder and shot-blocker for years. His defense is nice. At 32 he's plenty experienced but still has a couple years left. You'll have a hard time finding a better (realistic) fit, except... He hasn't played 30 minutes a game for five years and he averaged only 16 for the Bucks last season. If he's your starting center you'll need more help. But he's also perched at the $7 million salary level which now looks like more than half of Portland's available space this summer. If you spend half your money on half a starting center, who fills up the other half and/or your other positions of need?
The Blazers may still have enough cap space to make the 'Wolves sweat a huge offer for Pek, but even if Minnesota didn't match he'd be Portland's only signing above the veteran minimum level. Is he worth it? He's the right size and plays a nifty, old-school offense. He also rebounds exceptionally well on the offensive end. Defensive rebounding and defense, period, remain questions. Add in the fact that Minny would likely match an offer and this is becoming an increasingly unlikely match for Portland.
Robin Lopez, $5.2-$5.3 million over two seasons non-guaranteed, New Orleans Pelicans
I'll repeat a recent Mailbag blurb about him: "Lopez doesn't rebound, doesn't defend that well, has no face-up game, considers fouling a second religion, never passes the ball, and pretty much only blocks shots. His offense is efficient though. And he's cheap. In an ideal world he's my back-up center, not a starter." The thing is, he's valuable enough to New Orleans to keep on board. That means Portland would have to trade for the guy. I could maybe see picking him up as a free agent if you believe he has more to give, but trading anything significant for him seems like a bad move.
Somebody always mentions him when defensive centers come up. The Blazers don't have the cap room for him and the Knicks don't have a real reason to trade him, at least not to Portland. They wouldn't be below the cap even if they dumped his $14 million for second-round picks so they need commensurate value in return. Unless you're looking to trade Nicolas Batum or LaMarcus Aldridge for an over-30-year-old center this won't happen.
Spencer Hawes, $6.5 million next season, Philadelphia 76'ers
If the Sixers don't retain Andrew Bynum, dropping Hawes' contract would equate to cap space for free agents on a 1-to-1 basis. If they do retain Bynum then Hawes is theoretically less necessary, pending injury status. Either way, they're not in love with Spencer and would probably be amenable to trading him away. Can the Blazers live with a Stretch 5 at center, though? He rebounds but is indifferent defensively...not the "rim protector" the Blazers have said they need. But he's young and won't cost them a fortune. In the last post we compared getting Chris Kaman to shopping for a new car but ending up with a used Ford Taurus and Timofey Mozgov as ending up with a Ford knock-off. This would be the equivalent of shopping for a new car and ending up with a Segway instead. Could work under the right circumstances but those circumstances are limited.
Andrew Bynum, Unrestricted Free Agent, Philadelphia 76'ers
This is the kind of thing that makes your stomach turn. He's the most talented center available outside of Dwight Howard. He'd be a game-changer...the only guy on this list but Dwight who would raise your expectations of team performance to instant contention. But his attitude is suspect, he wants to be the main guy, he's not good enough mentally or fundamentally to rely on in that role yet, he just sat out the entire season because of injury, he'll be bloody expensive, and chances are decent he'll just be a ton of cap-clogging, chemistry-ruining poison. The Sixers have Bird Rights. Bynum will likely follow the money there or elsewhere, putting Portland out of the mix. If this choice did come before the Blazers though... Naw, not gonna happen.
When we started this whole center-discussion process a few months ago I was lukewarm on Gortat, and for good reason. He's decent at most everything, dominant at nothing. Rebounding is his strongest suit. His offense is pretty good as long as he doesn't over-rely on the jumper. He won't make you raise eyebrows but he doesn't have any major holes. He is one of the few obtainable centers sitting in the intersection between "Tastes Great" and "Less Filling". His cap hit isn't bad. His play isn't bad. His size isn't bad. He's experienced and plays nice with others. You can't find this combination of non-offensiveness and affordability anywhere else on this list. Brace yourselves, Blazer fans, a mild, slightly warm zephyr might be blowing through town. That zephyr's name is Gortat.
Jermaine O'Neal, Unrestricted Free Agent, Phoenix Suns
What's better than one Phoenix center? How about two? O'Neal would be the ultimate pickup for Portland with the room exception or veteran's minimum exception once the other cap money is spent. Depth, attitude, the ability to play a little power forward behind LaMarcus Aldridge, contentment with smaller minutes, Circle of Life career capping...if the Blazers can get him there's no question they should bolster their center depth with the former high school phenom who got away.
LaMarcus Aldridge, no extra cap cost, Portland Trail Blazers
From time to time people mention shifting Aldridge to center and acquiring a power forward to play alongside him. The pool of power forwards is deeper and they come cheaper, so this makes some sense as long as the new guy rebounds. But Aldridge doesn't want to play center and you can't make your star #1 option play in a way he doesn't like. If Aldridge isn't optimal and happy neither is his team.
Next to Andrew Bynum, Cousin's may be the highest risk-highest reward center in the rumor mill. He's young. He's not had a good upbringing in Sacramento. His physical gifts are astonishing and even at this early stage, amid so much chaos, his production is pretty impressive. He's not a shot-blocker but the Blazers might give that up to get a player of his potential. The problem is, he's caused a bunch of that chaos. It's hard to look past his head-case tendencies. He's also self-centered on offense, a big no-no in Portland's system. Even if you were willing to take a chance on him, it's hard to see what the Blazers could trade to make Sacramento give him up. Nicolas Batum is the only reasonable candidate from Portland's end, Aldridge and Damian Lillard being untouchable and Wesley Matthews not being enough. Having already dumped last year's lottery pick Thomas Robinson, the Kings can't afford to drop another young guy without just compensation. The deal just isn't lining up here even if the Blazers were interested.
Cole Aldrich, Unrestricted Free Agent, Sacramento Kings
Here's another former lottery pick, albeit one on his third team in three years, retained by none of them. Aldrich can block shots and rebound, fitting Portland's needs. But he's not played more than 9 minutes per game in his career and the Kings didn't even think he was worth picking up the option year on his rookie contract. When he was in OKC our colleagues at Welcome to Loud City noted that he was developing a nice baby hook with right and left hands, leading me to dub him the Best Ambidextrous Hooker in the league. For that alone the Blazers might want to consider picking him up as a cheap back-up option if nobody else works out.
Splitter would be a great pick-up as long as Portland also had a bigger center in reserve for use against huge opponents. Defensive rebounding is his biggest issue. He's not a shot-blocker. But his defense is rock solid his offense is efficient without being demanding and his offensive rebounding is strong. He plays smart and would fit in on either end, up to and including spelling Aldridge and providing an insurance policy against his departure. Unless they win another World Title this year, the Spurs should probably consider Splitter expendable at a certain price level, as he's not the kind of player you'd rebuild around. The problem is that price level is likely to be high. It'd take all of Portland's cap money to approach it and Splitter is neither complete enough nor enough of a true center to warrant putting all your eggs in his basket. It would be a beautiful move but ultimately it's probably not affordable.
If you wanted to say, "Forget defense, let's just try to outscore everybody with our bigs" then Jefferson would be your man. Seeing him and Aldridge work off of each other and the guards would be interesting. His multi-faceted offense, offensive rebounding, and star-level production would add a major new wrinkle to the team. But Portland would get smoked on the other end. Plus with the salary cap lower than expected the Blazers might not have enough money to lure him here. This would be your classic, "We've given up on being great, but you'll like our 'good' well enough to buy tickets" move.
Okafor's skill set would fit right in with Portland's needs. He's big, a defensive specialist, scores in the lane, and grabs a large popcorn bucket full of rebounds every time he takes the floor. His production fell a couple years ago due to injury but he bounced back this season with Washington. Sporting another center already in Nene Hilario, the Wizards might even be willing to move Okafor for cap space. His salary is enormous, which is the issue for the Blazers. They'd have to move Joel Freeland for nothing before they'd be able to take back Okafor's salary. The bite's not as bad as it might seem, though, as Okafor's contract expires next summer and he won't make as much on a new deal. But the improvement this year plus the cost of a new contract plus the lottery pick it'd cost in trade plus the opportunity cost isn't really worth it. Okafor brings what the Blazers need but he's just too expensive to welcome on board.