D Day for the NBA's labour talks but the HQ forges on, looking at this year's free-agent center crop...
The "Banger Bros"
Yep, these are just some of the illustrious names of Raptors-years past who tried manning the 5 spot.
The fact is, the center position has traditionally been one of extreme weakness for the Raps, and again as they enter this off-season of uncertainty, it's an area sorely in need of help.
The problem is, and as we discussed yesterday, the team doesn't have a lot of money to facilitate any "hole-plugging."
And on top of that, there just aren't a ton of great "hole-pluggers" available.
With that being said though, this morning we take a look at the center crop of 2011 NBA Free Agents, dividing it into various...um...tiers...
Let's start at the top.
The "I'll Hug Colangelo" Tier:
1) Tyson Chandler - The top option in this entire off-season recruitment process has to be Mr. Chandler. He's still reasonably young, is fresh off a near MVP playoff performance where his club won the whole thing, and he would both plug a big roster hole on Toronto, and fill some big needs as a defensive-minded, shot-blocking center.
But as we discussed yesterday, is he a realistic option?
I sincerely doubt it.
First, I think that Dallas will do everything in its power to retain him, and second, if Tyson does look elsewhere, would he really choose a 20 win club like the Raps, even if their new head coach is his former assistant in Dallas?
One with only about $7M to spend this off-season on him?
2) Nene - There's not much point going into mega detail on Nene here as while yes, he'd be an absolute beast in the middle for Toronto, his situation is similar to that of Tyson Chandler; Toronto most likely can't afford him, and why would he choose the Raps over a myriad of other options, all of which can probably pay a lot more.
The "Nice Work if you Can Get It" Tier:
1) DeAndre Jordan - In this tier, I've grouped two slightly more plausible options. Plausible for Toronto because a) these players won't likely command the same salary as the two in the previous tier and b) the teams that employ them have a history of losing key free agents.
So can Raptors' fans hope that the Clippers return to form and let Jordan walk? It doesn't sound like it. By all accounts LA is bent on keeping Jordan, even if it means moving another center, Chris Kaman.
In addition, Jordan will probably command in the neighborhood of $8 to $10M, slightly out of Toronto's price range, and the Clippers, about $11M under the cap, should be able to award him the contract he desires.
As the antithesis of Andrea Bargnani, Jordan would be a sight for sore eyes for Raps' fans, however at this point the whole idea seems to be a mirage.
2) Marc Gasol - Gasol is in a similar situation as Jordan. He too is a restricted free-agent, one his club seems hell-bent on keeping, but playing for a team which hasn't always fared well in terms of retaining key players. (See his brother.) The added wrinkle here though is that the Memphis Grizzlies salary cap situation is not nearly as good as that of LA, or Toronto for that matter. The team recently signed Rudy Gay and Mike Conley to big deals, and has re-upped on power forward Zach Randolph.
That doesn't leave the club with a lot of money and while last off-season was a good one I'm sure for the team's pocket-book, we're still talking about a club that's hardly in "free-spending" mode.
Gasol could be had then for the right price, although Toronto will also be competing with numerous other clubs undoubtedly for his services. $8 to $10M ala DeAndre Jordan sounds about right but if TO can somehow get him for $7ish and possibly offer a more lucrative back-loaded deal, there may be a glimmer of hope.
But considering Memphis has first-right of refusal here, I'd say it's just that, a glimmer.
The "Fine, I Guess That Works" Tier:
1) Joel Przybilla - In this tier, we look at three options that make sense on paper, but have big risks attached. Mr. Przybilla is the top dog here for me, as he would provide a legit shot-blocking and rebounding presence, and probably one that could be had for under the $7ish million the Raps look to have to spend.
Yes, he's struggled with injuries of late, but if healthy, we're talking about one of the best per-minute rebounders and shot-blockers in the league, with an underrated offensive game. He would be the Dinos' first legit rim protector at the 5 in eons, and as a great character guy who's been in the league for a while, a solid veteran presence for the team's youngsters.
That being said, do you really want to award a long-term deal to a 31 year-old who relies a lot on athleticism to be effective, and who' s best years seem to be behind him?
2) Samuel Dalembert - You could nearly duplicate what I just wrote about Pzybilla for Dalembert here although the former 76er and King is slightly younger, and hasn't had the same history with injuries.
But again we're talking about someone whose defensive traits at the 5 would make an immediate impact.
However considering his $13.4M price tag last year, it's doubtful he settles for under $7M (even if that's what he's actually worth) and he doesn't exactly have the best history in terms of locker room chemistry. (Not to mention the unintentional comedy involved with he and Leo Rautins working for the same organization.)
3) Kwame Brown - Finally, we get to the bust of all busts, Mr. Kwame Brown.
The funny thing is, Kwame has carved out a little niche for himself at this point in his career as a defensive presence at center, obviously something Toronto could use.
His price tag works as well, he made only $1.3M so could be had as a stop-gap solution until the Raptors bring over Jonas Valanciunas in a year.
However it's hard to get too excited about the team signing someone like Brown, and for me, while I'd be ok with it, I'd be much more "ok" if he could be had for cheap to enable other areas of need to be addressed by the team as well.
The "These Guys are Kind of Interesting" Tier:
1) Chuck Hayes - Undersized yes, but a beast of a rebounder and hustler who has the length to play the 5 at times. For $2 to $3M, you could do a lot worse, especially as a stop-gap.
2) Jeff Foster - Not really a defensive ace or shot-blocker, but he'd rebound the hell out of the ball and probably challenge Andrea to fight every practice. That alone could be worth throwing a couple mil at.
3) Jason Collins - Collins is still in the league simply because he plays great D. The Hawks used him to give Dwight Howard fits last year (he's one of the few who can do this), and he could probably be had for a very good price. He's no Chandler or even Gasol, but if the club is looking to hit the lottery hard next year while making subtle improvements on D, this could be the way to go.
4) Dan Gadzuric - He's coming off one of the worst contracts in NBA history, but he does block shots and rebound the basketball. Like Collins, if he could be had for cheap on a short deal...
5) Kyrylo Fesenko - This is a very interesting sleeper pick. Fesenko is no Dwight Howard in terms of being a shot-blocker and exceptional athlete, but he's a huge kid who gives other players problems thanks to his size and strength. Again, if he could be had on a two-year deal for relatively cheap, Fesenko might offer a very nice return on investment.
The "Just Say No" Tier: