Dreaming Through Free Agency’s Seven-Footers

Moving on from the horrific car accident that is the NBA’s current labor negotiation, here comes some casual dabbling in the always fun world of speculative free agency predictions. As we saw happen when the NFL finally came to its peaceful resolution, the splurge of signings, trades, relocation, and bag package quintupled in a condensed period of activity. It was as if God crammed all the blizzards, freezing rain, and icy roads usually reserved for November through February into a single week, then declared it winter.

When a conclusion is finally made there will be none of the traditional player to player courting: no fruit baskets overflowing with Beats by Dre headphones to be sent or received. When the season starts, teams with overtly obvious areas of need will race one another towards landing the prized player of their choice. It was a joy for fans of the NFL, and it will (hopefully) be a joy for fans of the NBA.

Normally, more so than not, teams who’ve housed unrestricted free agents are granted inside pole position on resigning their guy. Obscene offers are made by all who possess a gleaming eye, but before ink is signed, the reigning signer of said player’s last paycheck usually has an unofficial opportunity to match or exceed any outstanding deals that are on the table. In other words, the team with the unrestricted free agent may not desire or have the means to resign said player, but they won’t be left in the dark. They already have a relationship with him, and there’s a good chance he’s comfortable with his teammates and surroundings, especially if the money’s fair.

This free agency period is different in that these players aren’t exactly going to their owner’s house to share diced veal stew or play hours of Wii Tennis anytime soon. There’s no communication, and at the risk of a six-digit fine, or worse, all negotiation is cut off—the playing field is level; everyone’s struggling to find the same light switch.

Like most teams who missed the playoffs last season, the Rockets have a glaring weakness in their starting lineup. What they need, in short, is someone really, really tall. Someone who can rebound ferociously, gently bat opposing shots to smaller teammates, and inspire confidence in their allied perimeter prowlers. They need a big guy who inspires actual excitement to be on defense. Someone who doesn’t necessarily need to be a first or second option on offense, but a big guy who won’t Kwame Brown the ball when it’s tossed his way.

There are three free agent centers who I believe would fit in splendidly with Houston’s style of play, and what they might like to do with the future nucleus of young players their roster is currently constructed with.

(Apologies to Nene, who, due to an overwhelming offense over defense burliness, just doesn’t seem like a great solution with filling in the team’s great hole. Awesome player, and signing him wouldn’t make the Rockets worse, but the three others listed are a bit more appropriate.)

3) DeAndre Jordan

Pros: When it comes to defense, the proverbial sky is the limit for DeAndre Jordan. Placing him beside Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson, or even Jordan Hill creates a pretty imposing defensive frontline. Jordan has room to improve on isolated situations—he fouls way too much and is a bit eager when it comes to contesting most up fakes—but his means to help teammates makes him incredibly useful. Jordan is only 23, and signing him to a long term contract would be a wise investment for the dozen teams who could use an upgrade at the five.

Cons: With the ball in his hands, there’s little differentiating Jordan from a talking albatross. He’s one of the league’s best finishers—always good for an alley-oop or put back dunk when the opportunity presents itself—but apart from that there’s really little else he can do. There would be no throwing of the ball down low and letting Jordan go to work, especially if your well-mapped strategy happens to be drawing fouls from the opponent (Jordan is a career 41% shooter from the free-throw line). There’s always the possibility he improves on that end, maybe turning himself into a poor man’s Andrew Bynum. But that’s fool’s gold. His influence on the other end, however, is real.

2) Tyson Chandler

Pros: He’s a champion. When people talk about defensive authority, he’s draws comparisons to Kevin Garnett. He knows his offensive limitations and is coming off a year in which he led the entire league in true shooting (69.7%). Also, he’s a champion.

Chandler has benefited from playing with some great throwers of the lob pass—Chris Paul and Jason Kidd are all-timers; it’s kind of a prerequisite for his finding any success at all on the offensive end, and teaming him up with Kyle Lowry and Jonny Flynn wouldn’t be a bad thing for either party.

Cons: Three things: 1) He’s 29-years-old with a notorious history of nagging injuries, 2) Just because he knows he has offensive limitations doesn’t take away the fact that he has offensive limitations, and 3) Coming off his stellar playoff performance, Chandler is the current front runner for the “Player Most Likely To Fall Short Of His New Contract’s Expectations” award. As important as it is, whoever gets him will likely overpay for that defensive intensity Chandler brings to the table. And after playing professional ball since 2001, thinking you’ll see the same production in two or three years on those soon to be creaky knees might be wishful thinking.

1) Marc Gasol

Pros: Arguably the best free agent center on the market, with a skill set that’s both perfect for Houston’s offensive flow and should only refine itself as the 26-year-old continues to ripen over the next 5-7 years. With no true backup center spelling him in the playoffs, Gasol averaged 15 points (on 50% shooting) and 11 boards. He has great touch around the basket and when called upon is capable of stepping out and knocking down a relatively reliable 15-footer.

Cons: How much of Gasol’s success was due in part to playing alongside Zach Randolph, basketball’s most unseen demon? Was his full offensive repertoire masked? For better or worse? Will he wilt under the increased pressure that could come by way of being the only go-to big man on his roster? This is admittedly nitpicking, but what’s true is Gasol doesn’t quite compare to the other two centers in this group when it comes to defensive savoir faire. The fact that he’s 7’1” makes him worthy over Nene, but how Gasol handles the pressures of anchoring a defense on his own could be something to ponder.

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