Extreme Makeover: Center Edition

 

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The Miami Heat are in a rather advantageous position this summer. They are only team that has a stud player (Dwyane Wade—duh, right?) poised to stay in town and the luxury of the capability to add another MAX-level free agent and possibly even third MAX guy with a bold trade (which is to say, trade Michael Beasley for a ham sandwich or anyone or anything else that won’t be a substantial Salary Cap hit). I’m not sure if I am a fan of what it will take to get three stars to South Beach, but all that notwithstanding, we know one thing: the 2010-11 Opening Night roster for the Miami Heat will look much different than the collection of guys who put up more of a fight against the Boston Celtics than a 4-1 decision implies.

 

As a part of that major overhaul, the center position is a major need for Miami Heat. Many are of the belief that an upgrade at starting center is optional. I am not. My firm belief is that if we truly want to contend for a Championship beginning next season, having a legitimate—not necessarily dominant or even All-Star caliber center—is an absolute must. What’s my reasoning?

 

 

I know centers do not have as much impact on the NBA as a whole as they did say five years ago, but here’s a little food for thought: Six of the eight teams that advanced as far as even the Second Round (sorry, I just can’t tall it the Conference Semifinals—it’s the Second Round, period) of the 2010 Playoffs employed the services of a legitimate center. By legitimate I do not mean someone of a legitimate height and weight plays the position on all those teams. I’m talking, in no particular order: Kendrick Perkins, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Andrew Bynum, Al Horford, and Dwight Howard. Each of these guys is a legitimate center. They all defend and rebound the position. As good as they are, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, David Lee, Dirk Nowitzki, and Amare Stoudemire are power forwards, and they will not be able to defend or rebound the center position consistently.

 

Who are the centers on the free agent market (and perhaps even one or two who are not) that the Miami Heat should consider? I’m glad you asked. According to yours truly, here are the top five centers for Presidential Pat and Mr. Arison to ponder. I’ll give a perhaps unnecessary disclaimer here: These suggestions hinge on the assumptions that the Miami Heat 1) Re-sign Dwyane Wade and 2) substantially upgrade the power forward position.

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1. Roy Hibbert Yes, that Roy Hibbert. He averaged 11.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.6 blocks for the 2009-10 campaign. Somewhat promising for a center who fell out of the Lottery after deciding to remain in college for his senior year. Very promising for a guy who averaged only 25 minutes per game. Hibbert is a victim of a coaching staff that does not use him in the ways most befitting his skill set. In that regard, he’s not unlike our very own Michael Beasley. How about a trade? The numbers would actually work, too. The Heat cold send Beasley and James Jones to the Pacers for Hibbert and T. J. Ford. Ford is owed $8 million next season, but it’s the last on his current contract. Perhaps he could work out at point guard for a year. If not, perhaps his expiring contract could come in handy at the Trade Deadline. Worst case, he’s gone after a year and the team has flexibility going into free agency in 2011—the potential Summer of Melo. Back to Roy Hibbert. He’s a solid defender. Out of the 81 games in which he played this past season, he logged at least one block in over 72% of those contests. Hibbert had a remarkable 18 games in which he swatted 3 or more shots. In those 18 games, he blocked 5 or more 6 times, so even when he doesn’t block a shot, he often alters attempts near the basket. Offensively, Hibbert is respectable—when he gets the ball. He shoots it at nearly 50%. He’s also a bargain at $1.7 million next season.

 

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2. Brendan Haywood Haywood is coming off his best season as a pro. He was as close to averaging a double-double for the season in 2009-10 as he’s ever been, and he made it the second consecutive season in which he averaged 2+ blocks per game—despite being traded and having to adapt to an entirely different system and coaching staff. Haywood has had a few injury concerns throughout his career, but he appears to be in good shape going forward. Another concern could be the worry that he has blossomed so over the last two seasons due to the dreaded "contract year phenomenon." I don’t really worry about that with this guy because he’s always been a hard worker—even dating back to his days at Chapel Hill. His production started to increase significantly when his playing time increased. The last two seasons are the only two in which he averaged 30+ minutes per game, and he responded with 9.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game over that span. I could see him signing in the $8-$10 million range.

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3. Solomon Alabi – As the starting center on a Florida State team that earned an NCAA Tournament berth, the sophomore averaged 11.7 shots on 53% shooting, 6.2 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks. At 7-2, the kid could work out nicely in the middle. So what if he could be the second coming of Hasheem Thabeet? All he’d need to do is block shots, rebound, and dunk the ball when it lands in his lap. He’d get a rookie scale salary—set to be about $1.2 million in the first year.

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4. Ben Wallace Big Ben seems to have found himself again back in the Motor City. I have him ranked this low because of his age and the fact that he might retire or decide he wants to finish out his career as a Piston even if all they pay him is the minimum. If the Heat could lure him away for up to $3 or $4 million per for two or three seasons, he’d be a great mentor for Joel Anthony and perhaps Alabi if he’s our First Round pick. In 2009-10, Wallace averaged 5.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 1.2 blocks. Those numbers would come in handy for a minimal price and mentorship to boot.

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5. Emeka Okafor This is probably the most unlikely outcome due to the facts that he would have to be acquired via trade and that his salary is a bit high for the service he provides. That said, I had to include Okafor because he’s (in my mind) the perfect mold of a center the Miami Heat would need to compliment the imminent upgrade at the power forward position. This guy just comes to work everyday. He doesn’t make a lot of noise, but he’s averaged a double-double in five of the six seasons he’s played, and he’s played in all 82 games in each of his last 3 seasons. Okafor is also a more than capable defender, as his average of blocks per game has hovered at around two per contest for his career. As mentioned, this would require a trade. We could send Michael Beasley and James Jones to New Orleans for Okafor. My main beef with the guy is his contract. Because he was the 2nd overall pick in 2004, he’s on an extension similar to Dwight Howard’s. Starting next season, Okafor makes $11.5 million, and it goes up next three years. That said, put him back in the Eastern Conference, and he’ll battle Al Horford and Andrew Bogut for that All-Star reserve spot as a center.

 

Feel free to agree or disagree in the comment section. I’d love to know what other fans think about this. Stay tuned for the next most important position for the Heat to upgrade!

 

 

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