Now that the Kevin Love for Andrew Wiggins (among others) deal is all but official, Cleveland Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin has turned his attention to polishing off the rest of the roster.
On Sunday, the Cavaliers added veteran Shawn Marion, while still being “optimistic” that they will also lure Ray Allen to rejoin LeBron James. Although there is only enough cap space to sign players to a minimum contract, it is the perfect opportunity for a veteran to add depth to the roster while competing for that ever elusive championship ring.
There is a seismic shift in lineups that is going on in the league, drifting away from the traditional center position in favor of a stretch forward playing alongside an undersized, more athletic center. During his time in Miami, James often times played at the small forward spot while Shane Battier and Chris Bosh played at the four and five spot. James also played his fair share of time at the four spot, forcing him to grind in the paint with the big boys.
While the lineup adjustment allowed the team to spread the offense, creating open lanes, wide open shots on the perimeter and the ability to run in transition, it proved problematic against teams such as the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls who had traditional big man at the center position. For the Cavaliers to reach the pinnacle of the Eastern Conference, they will need to compete and overcome the duos of David West and Roy Hibbert as well as Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah (not to mention Taj Gibson).
This offseason, James has lost an estimated 15 pounds and with the addition of Love, James’ time in the paint will be drastically reduced this season. More than his well-documented shooting ability, Love brings versatility to the roster and with his tenacity on the boards, he will spend time at the center position in the smaller lineup. Still, there is a need for a rim protecting big man in order for this roster to come full circle.
After examining the Cavaliers roster, there is a glaring hole at the center position. Long time Cavalier center Anderson Varejao, played in 65 games last season and averaged 8.4 points and 9.7 rebounds in 28 minutes per game. Varejao, 31, missed 81 combined games over the previous three seasons battling a torn ankle, broken wrist and a blood clot in his lungs. Cleveland traded for center Brendan Haywood on draft day for his expiring contract and value in a trade to produce more cap space. Haywood missed the entire 2013-14 season with a stress fracture in his foot and most likely will not be ready for training camp in October. The Cavs signed rookie center Alex Kirk last week, who averaged 13.3 points and 8.7 rebounds for the University of New Mexico. Kirk is raw and will need time to develop assuming he even makes the final roster. With an injury prone center that is just past his prime and a journeyman veteran that missed all of last season, Griffin needs to consider bolstering the center position.
Here is a list of the veteran centers that are still free agents that the Cavs should target:
1. Jermaine O’Neal
O’Neal will be 36 when the season begins and his skill set and ability has regressed drastically from the 2003-04 season, where he was named to the All-NBA 2nd Team as a member of the Pacers. Despite his limited athleticism and stamina, O’Neal averaged 8.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game coming off the bench for the Golden State Warriors last season. O’Neal proved that he still has enough in the tank to contribute in a niche role, being used only when necessary.
2. Ekpe Udoh
Staying with former Golden State centers, Udoh played for the Milwaukee Bucks for the past two seasons after being a lottery draft pick in 2010 by the Warriors. Last season, Udoh averaged 3.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game and has yet to live up to his lofty expectations. Saying he is limited offensively is a cliché understatement, yet the 27 year old center has averaged 1.3 blocks in 18.7 minutes per game during his four year career. The 1.3 blocks per game average puts Udoh in the top 20 ranking amongst the entire league. With no immediate interest from other clubs, Udoh can be brought in for a minimum deal to do what he does best: protect the rim.
3. Emeka Okafor
Another lottery pick center, Okafor has had a decent career production wise, but missed the entire 2013-14 season with a herniated disk in his neck after being traded to the Phoenix Suns in a deal that brought Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards. Okafor played 79 games in 2012 averaging 9.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game; however, he will need to be medically cleared by team doctors and could be in a similar situation as Greg Oden, who played for the Miami Heat last season. Despite the fact that he was on the books for $14.5 million last year, Okafor has only played in one playoff series in his 10 year career and could look to join a contender for a minimum deal while trying to make a dramatic comeback.
1. Greg Stiemsma
Last played for the New Orleans Pelicans, averaged 2.9 points and 4.9 rebounds and has surprising leaping ability despite being limited offensively.
2. Ryan Hollins
Hollins had two separate stints with the Cavs before joining the Los Angeles Clippers. Hollins has always been a reserve center averaging just 12 minutes per game for his career. Hollins is extremely athletic and is a true 7-foot center.
3. Greg Oden
Why not? Oden led the Ohio State Buckeyes to the Final Four in 2007 before being selected first overall by the Portland Trail Blazers, ahead of Kevin Durant. Although he has been unable to rebound from serious knee injuries, Miami took a shot on Oden last season, where he started nine games and averaged 3.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in less than 10 minutes per game. The one-time Ohio hero could find success in Cleveland, but is now facing battery charges for allegedly striking his ex-girlfriend and his career could be over.