Free Agency-Part 3: Centers

I've heard a lot of interesting opinions regarding the Pacers' need for shooting guards and power forwards. Currently, the overwhelming favorites for the team to pursue/re-sign at each position, according to this community, are Marcus Thornton (40% of the vote right now) and Josh McRoberts (32%). I didn't vote on either FanPost but I think an argument can be made for every guy listed and most of the guys mentioned in the discussion thread. Today's post is for centers.

I think this is a complicated, and very important off-season for the Pacers' center position. There's a lot out there that would immediately improve the team, but very little that would represent a positive cost:benefit ratio. Most of the uupper echelon available centers would have to replace Roy Hibbert in the starting lineup for the team to get its money's worth. The lower tiered guys may make nice backups, but may not coexist on teh same court as Hibbert during rotations, thus limiting their minutes. In other words, there isn't much versatility to be had through free agency.

Again, I've broken the centers into two groups, based on cost.  

The "Expensive" Guys

1. Tyson Chandler

Type: UFA

2010-11 Pay: $12,750,000

Estimated Open Market Value: 4 years, $40-48 million

Strengths: One of the NBA's premier rim defenders; doesn't always show up on the stat sheet but he alters shots better than most NBA centers. A supreme athlete with a Marcus Camby build and demeanor. An absolute monster on the glass (12+ rebounds per 36 six times in his career). Quick and springy with the ability to come across the lane and swat shots from the weak side. A rare skill-set.

Weaknesses: Injury prone; has never made it through a full  NBA season. Probably lacks the durability to log heavy minutes. Not a dynamic offensive force. Doesn't seem to have any interest in devleoping a post game; like Camby he relies on putbacks and high-percentage close range shots. Seems to have lost a bit of his bounce. Once a great shotblocker, he's become somewhat foul-prone of late. Enjoying a career resurgence in Dallas, especially from the free throw line, but has never had the all-around game to justify his pay. At his market value will almost certainly underperform...whatever team signs him will have a very specific need and will pay for the good, knowing the bad will never get better. 

2. Nene Hilario

Type: UFA (Player Option)

2010-11 Pay: $11,360,000

Player Option: $11,600,000

Estimated Open Market Value: 5 years, $55-62 million

Strengths: A frenetic, hyper and endlessly energetic player. Lasting athleticism and mobility, despite rather long, injury-plagued career. Attacks the rim ferociously. An absolute load on the low block with a killer instinct and a demeanor that makes opponents uncomfortable. Very quick hands for a big man. A high-percentage shooter who makes good decisions near the basket and does a good job drawing fouls (and knocking down free throws). Tireless worker who would endear himself to fans immediately. May have the ability to pay PF.

Weaknesses: He'll be 29 at the start of the season, and likely looking for as many years in a contract as possible (5 max from a team other than Denver). Injury and testicular cancer shortened his career, which may be a good thing for his longevity, as he hasn't logged as many games as others his age, but it still casts doubt on paying him huge money. Has a limited offensive arsenal; rarely even attempts shots outside of 10-12 feet (when he does shoot jumpers he only makes them at a 29% clip), making him one-dimensional and predictable offensively. Has expressed interest in exercising his player option, but may be looking for a blockbuster deal on a championship contender, or may be using the option as leverage to get more years from the Nuggets, who under the current rules are the only team that can offer him a six-year contract.

3. Marc Gasol

Type: RFA

Qualifier: $4,350,000

2010-11 Pay: $3,480,000

Estimated Open Market Value: 5 years, $45-50 million

Strengths: Bigger and more rugged on the low block than his brother Pau. A plodder who is an above-average rebounder and shot blocker, but who can also knock down the mid-range jumper at a decent clip. Has quick hands for a big man, averaging a steal per game over his career. A highly-efficient shooter. Unselfish with good court vision. Great hands. Makes diffcult catches and passes in traffic.

Weaknesses: While he out-sizes Pau, he also lacks his athleticism and offensive game. Has trouble with athletic post players, particularly power forwards who are always too quick for him. A center only who is most likely looking for starter's minutes and pay. The Grizzlies are reportedly highly interested in retaining him if they can afford him, so any team that wants him will have to pay more than he'd probably be worth as an unrestricted free agent. There doesn't seem to be much potential for Marc to ever become a star-type franchise changer like Pau.

4. Greg Oden

Type: RFA

2010-11 Pay: $6,796,542

Qualifier: $8,788,681

Estimated Open Market Value: 3 years, $28-34 million

Strengths: Absolutely the most dominant high school center to come out in recent memory. Does it all on both ends. Great size, soft hands and surprisingly good footwork. Can catch passes on the break and in traffic, and finish with authority near the goal. Overwhelms opponents with his dominant size/athleticism combination. Good touch around the rim. A game-changer defensively and a natural rebounder.

Weaknesses: Needs work adding moves to his post game; can't rely on dunking on everyone at the NBA level. Good but not great court vision for a guy capable of drawing so many double teams. Not much of a face-up game to speak of, nor can he consistently play very far away from the basket. Not a threat to spread the floor in any way. The elephant in the room is obviously his injury history. Would likely be signed to a 6-year extension by his current team, the Trailblazers, by now, if it weren't for his issues with microfracture surgery and the obscene amount of games he's missed. Still young, but may never be a legitimate NBA player thanks to his struggles with lower leg injuries. The riskiest free agent on the market. May take a qualifying offer (which will possibly be on the table) if given the opportunity, as other teams may want to see him even remotely healthy for a year before risking offering him a long-term deal. WIth his current injury risk label he's not even worth his qualifier...not even close, and may even forgo his qualifier and structure a long-term deal with the Blazers for less, just to secure the years, if the new CBA allows it.

The "Cheap" Guys

1. DeAndre Jordan

Type: RFA

2010-11 Pay: $854,389

Qualifier: $1,091,100

Estimated Open Market Value: 5 years, $26-34 million

Strengths: Big-bodied athlete with the natural athleticism to really develop into something special in the league. An outstanding shot-blocker and a above-average rebounder. Has a rare combination of size and ability to get out and run on fast breaks. Good in the pick-and-roll game (tip to user Latrel Spreewell). A freak-load of potential.

Weaknesses: Very limited offensive repertoire. Can only play center. Doesn't seem to rotate/react well on defense against teams that pass well. Needs to develop a mid-range game or he'll never truly reach his potential. Could still probably add a few pounds; it's discouraging he hasn't put on much muscle mass since entering the league, considering his build would most likely support it. May have too much interest in the free agent market to really represent a good value for the Pacers (again, tip to Spreewell). 

2. Samuel Dalembert

Type: UFA

2010-11 Pay: $12,200,000

Estimated Open Market Value: 4 years, $20-25 million

Strengths: Possesses a long, lean body with hidden strength and plenty of athleticism. A natural shot-blocker-one of the best in the game. A very good rebounder; he's averaged double-figure rebounds per 36 in every year of his career. Very durable; he's made it to 82 games in four of his last five seasons and played 80 last year. 

Weaknesses: Doesn't always seem to try hard. Can get pushed off the block, which results in his attempting shots he can't hit, thus forcing him out of relevance offensively. Very streaky and can suffer drastic funks that ruin his team's momentum for weeks at a time. Not the type of player you can trust to build around; strictly a role player. Will be 30 near the start of the season. The universal urge to sign a big shot blocker may drive his price up, but he's truly not worth more than $5-6 million a year, if that.

3. Chuck Hayes

Type: UFA

2010-11 Pay: $2,301,250

Estimated Open Market Value: 4 years, $14-18 million

Strengths: Uncanny vision and passing ability for a post player. Uses lower body strength, tenacity and great positioning work to excel on the offensive glass. Quick hands and great timing make him a defensive dynamo. High intelligence guy who's a hard worker and a locker room leader.

Weaknesses: Incredibly short at 6'6. Maybe the shortest natural center ever, at least in the modern era. Despite intangibles and natural defensive ability he still gets bowled over by larger, athletically dominant post players. Hayes isn't shooting over anyone. Doesn't have an effective offensive game, and doesn't look for shots for himself. Can't take guys off the dribble or shoot from mid-range. A classic overachiever who, at 27, will most likely never improve more than his career year in 2010-11. Is most effective next to an offensively capable PF (hence his success next to Scola in Houston) but will his skills translate to any other situation?

4. Reggie Evans

Type: UFA

2010-11 Pay: $5,080,000

Estimated Open Market Value: 3 years, $10-14 million

Strengths: The best rebounder in the NBA. A nasty, rugged player with no fear. A legit post defender whose wingspan allows him to play bigger than his 6'8 listed height. Is versatile enough to guard PFs and Cs. Takes the term "going after every loose ball" a little too far....May be literally crazy. Makes people say the least. 

Weaknesses: Everything but rebounding and post defense. Evans has no offensive game, is not an athletic shot blocker and is not a proven winner. He's injury prone, and wearing down at 31 (has made it to only 58 games over the last two seasons.

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