Centers may be going the way of the dinosaur, but they aren’t extinct just yet. A good pivot man still has value in the NBA. The NBA champion Toronto Raptors don’t have a banner without Marc Gasol, and the Warriors used a collection of solid centers to get back to the Finals. As the adage goes: “You can’t teach size.” That means big men will always get paid. Always.
Here are the top potential free-agent centers on the market, with the negotiating period opening on June 30:
1. Al Horford (player option)
Horford has become the ideal modern NBA center. He can step out and hit 3-pointers, but can also go get a bucket on the block. He remains an elite defender, both individually and within a team scheme. He can also slide down a position and play bigger power forwards. Horford projects to age well over the next few years, provided a team keeps him on a similar maintenance plan to the one Boston has used. Horford opted out Tuesday, but both sides reportedly want to work out a long-term deal.
Fits with: Celtics, Rockets, Warriors
2. Nikola Vucevic
Vucevic took a while to get here, but he became an All-Star in his contract year. He also helped carry the Magic to their first playoff appearance since the team traded Dwight Howard in 2012. Vucevic is a good offensive player, but he needs good defenders around him. With his range and passing, he can fit any offensive system, which makes him attractive to many teams.
Fits with: Magic, Kings, Mavericks, Pelicans, Clippers
3. DeMarcus Cousins
Cousins looked like a guy coming off a torn Achilles tendon when he first returned. He then suffered a quad injury that kept him out for a chunk of the playoffs. But by the end of the Finals, Cousins looked pretty good. He’s fairly ground-bound, so the leg injuries aren’t major factors for him. He played for the Warriors on the cheap last year. He might have to do the same for another season, just to prove he can stay healthy and productive. Team culture matters when looking at where Cousins fits going forward.
Fits with: Warriors, Clippers, Spurs
4. Marc Gasol (player option)
After leaving the only NBA home he’d known at the trade deadline, Gasol found a new home in Toronto. He was a huge part of helping to lead the Raptors to the championship. Given the great fit, his age and a $25.6 million player option, Gasol likely will be back in Toronto next season.
Fits with: Raptors
5. Brook Lopez
Lopez was kind of like the kid left standing in musical chairs last summer. When the music stopped, everyone else had plans for their cap space and Lopez didn’t have a chair. His loss was the Bucks’ gain as they got Lopez for just the bi-annual exception. He’s a perfect fit in Milwaukee, but there is no chance he’s that cheap again. Given the Bucks’ tricky cap situation and the lack of Bird rights for Lopez, his return to Milwaukee is less than certain.
Fits with: Bucks, Kings, Mavericks, Pelicans, Clippers
6. Robin Lopez
Of the players listed so far, this Lopez brother seems like the player who is most likely to have a new home next season. Chicago is moving on with younger options, so Lopez will be elsewhere. That’s probably a good thing for him because his rugged, defensive-minded approach can fit with several teams. He’ll have plenty of suitors to choose from.
Fits with: Mavericks, Clippers, Kings, Lakers, Pelicans
7. Thomas Bryant (restricted)
The Wizards hit the jackpot when they took a flyer on Bryant after he was waived by the Lakers. Bryant led the NBA in field-goal percentage and even displayed a little range by hitting 33 3-pointers. Because of Washington’s lack of ability to bring in a replacement, it’s going to take a big offer sheet to pry him away. But Bryant may have earned just that from a center-needy team with cap space to burn.
Fits with: Wizards, Mavericks, Kings, Pelicans
8. Jonas Valanciunas
Valanciunas somewhat surprisingly opted out of his $17.6 million contract with the Grizzlies. All indications are that both sides would like to come to an agreement on a long-term deal. Outside of Robin Lopez, Valanciunas is the biggest dinosaur on this list, and not just because he was once a Raptor. His fit is tough to project because he’s not an ace defender and has little range on the offensive end. But he offers enough skill and experience to be helpful in the right situation.
Fits with: Grizzlies, Kings, Clippers
9. Dewayne Dedmon
Dedmon is an easy guy to root for. He had to fight his way onto NBA rosters to start his career. Then he developed a jumper to fit the modern game. Now he’s one of those players who fits in just about anywhere, mostly because he can start or come off the bench and be equally as effective. Dedmon will get as many, if not more, looks as anyone on this list.
Fits with: Hawks, Kings, Clippers, Lakers, Pelicans
10. DeAndre Jordan
Jordan finally got to Dallas and his stay didn’t even last a year. He finished out the season in New York, but isn’t likely to be back. Jordan will mostly likely catch on with a contender who needs some rebounding and defense up front. His range is measured in inches at this point, so whoever signs him is getting him strictly for his play on the defensive end.
Fits with: Lakers, Warriors, Pelicans, Magic
Other notable free agents: Willie Cauley-Stein (restricted), Enes Kanter, Frank Kaminsky (restricted), Ivica Zubac (restricted)
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