While the center position has gone out of vogue, big men still have value. Teams no longer build around the post, but everyone wants a solid defender and rebounder to anchor the defense. This free-agent class features a good mix of young players with upside and solid, defensive-minded veterans.
1. Andre Drummond (player option)
Drummond is in a bit of an interesting spot. He got only eight games with the Cleveland Cavaliers after they acquired him at the trade deadline. But those eight games, and an uncertain free-agent market due to the COVID-19 pandemic, open the possibility of Drummond exercising his $28.7 million player option for next season. Drummond is young enough to fit with the Cavs’ young core, so it’ll be one more year of growing together. After that, Drummond could hit what should be a more stable market flush with cash in 2021.
Fits with: Cavaliers
At first glance you might say, “Who?” But Wood was having a breakout year with the Pistons. His presence as a younger (and less expensive) option is a big part of why Detroit was willing to trade Andre Drummond. In his first season as a full-time rotation player, Wood delivered big numbers. For the year, he averaged 13.1 points on 56.7 percent shooting and grabbed 6.3 rebounds per game in just over 21 minutes a night. Wood also expanded his range to the arc, shooting 38.6 percent on 2.3 3-point attempts per contest. If that wasn’t enough, Wood dominated after Drummond was traded, averaging 22.8 points, 9.9 rebounds and one block per game. He’ll be handsomely rewarded this summer, likely by the Pistons.
Fits with: Pistons, Knicks, Hornets, Hawks
Thompson has had a kind of weird career. Right as he was figuring out his place in the NBA, LeBron James returned to Cleveland and the Cavs were title contenders. A few years later, James and Kyrie Irving were gone, and Thompson was a luxury for a rebuilding team. Now, he’s finally a free agent. With Andre Drummond likely the Cavs’ center moving forward, and Kevin Love (and his giant contract) entrenched at power forward, Thompson is probably moving on. Several contenders should line up to add the veteran big man in free agency.
4. Marc Gasol
Could this be it for Gasol? The veteran center is fully into the role-player phase of his career. Gasol is now a stretch five, as over half of his shot attempts come from behind the arc. He’s still a solid defender and rebounder, but has slipped far from his Defensive Player of the Year days. If the Raptors run it back one more year, Gasol probably comes back. If Toronto rebuilds, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Gasol call it a career. If he wants to keep playing, several contenders will offer Gasol a role as a 15-minute-per-game opener in the middle.
Fits with: Raptors, Clippers, Lakers, Warriors, Nuggets
5. Hassan Whiteside
This may have been Whiteside’s best season. He’s played more minutes with Portland than all but one of his Miami years. He scored 16.3 points per game on 61.8 percent shooting. And he led the league in blocked shots at 3.1 per game, while also pulling down 14.2 rebounds a night. The challenge is that Whiteside still doesn’t play with fire on a regular basis, and he’s done this contract-year thing before. Buyer beware.
Fits with: Hornets, Trail Blazers, Mavericks
6. Aron Baynes
Baynes’ year with the Suns has been up and down. He’s missed time with injuries, but when he has played, he’s been good. He nearly doubled his previous career high, averaging 11.5 points per game, and Baynes has done it by embracing the stretch-five role. He took four 3-pointers per game and hit 35 percent from deep. If he’s willing to accept the backup center role behind Deandre Ayton, Baynes would do well to stay in Phoenix. But as he enters his mid-30s, he might want to chase a title and should have plenty of opportunities to do so.
Fits with: Suns, Clippers, Lakers, Warriors, Celtics, Nuggets, Mavericks
7. Robin Lopez (player option)
Lopez joined his brother, Brook, in Milwaukee this season and has been everything the Bucks hoped for. His defense, screening and passing on the second unit have helped Milwaukee keep pace when the starters go to the bench. Because of the uncertain market, the Bucks being a title contender and the chance to play with his brother, Lopez will likely pick up his $5 million player option for 2020-21.
Fits with: Bucks
8. Mason Plumlee
Plumlee has been the perfect backup to Nikola Jokic in Denver. His passing ability allows the Nuggets to run a lot of the same sets when Plumlee is in the game for Jokic. He’s also a good rebounder and his defense has improved enough to where opponents don’t regularly target him. He got overpaid on his current contract (three years, $41 million), so he might be willing to take something team-friendly to stay with the contending Nuggets.
Fits with: Nuggets, Celtics, Clippers, Warriors
9. Jakob Poeltl (restricted)
Poeltl was the young piece in the Kawhi Leonard trade. He hasn’t become the starting center San Antonio hoped he would, but that could be more about LaMarcus Aldridge playing more at the five than expected. Centers tend to take longer to develop, and Poeltl is still young. Most encouraging? His per-36-minute line shows a double-double player who can pass and block shots. Poeltl looks like your classic late bloomer, and that’s not a guy the Spurs will let get away.
Fits with: Spurs, Hornets
10. Harry Giles
The Kings blew it when they declined their fourth-year rookie-scale team option on Giles. Now, Sacramento is capped at paying him just $3.9 million (the equivalent to his fourth-year option). That’s a number that other teams can, and likely will, beat easily. Giles has had health issues, but no available center offers his mix of youth, scoring, rebounding and passing. Multiple teams would do well to offer Giles a large chunk of the Mid-Level Exception and any team would be happy with the production it gets for the next few years.
Fits with: Knicks, Hornets, Pistons, Mavericks, Warriors, Celtics, Clippers
The Next Five
11. Willie Cauley-Stein (player option)
Fits with: Mavericks, Rockets, Clippers
12. JaVale McGee (player option)
Fits with: Lakers
13. Dwight Howard
Fits with: Lakers
14. Kelly Olynyk (player option)
Fits with: Heat
15. Meyers Leonard
Fits with: Heat, Clippers, Warriors
Other free-agent centers: Bismack Biyombo, Tyson Chandler, John Henson, Willy Hernangomez, Damian Jones (restricted), Frank Kaminsky (team option), Enes Kanter (player option), Skal Labissiere (restricted), Alex Len, Ian Mahinmi, Mike Muscala (player option), Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Kyle O’Quinn, Ante Zizic
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