Possible Amnesty Casualties: Centers
Earlier this month I detailed the dearth of pending free agent big men, which is depressing news for teams in desperate need of a center. However, all hope is not lost. Salvation for size-starved squads could come in the form of a much discussed “amnesty” clause in the new collective bargaining agreement. Once the lockout ends (assuming it will eventually end), the new CBA will purportedly contain a provision that allow teams to shed one of their cap-killing contracts. In fact, some reporters have speculated that each team may be allowed to dump as many as two unfavorable contracts. This would result in a significant influx of free agent talent to be gobbled up by the rest of the league.
In particular, there may be a bunch of big men to hit the open market. This could potentially be a godsend for those teams desperate to add a center. The details of this new amnesty provision are sketchy at this point (might teams have two years to use their provision?); as a result, it is somewhat difficult to predict what direction some teams may go…
Let’s take a look at a handful of centers that might shake loose:
Mehmet Okur – Utah Jazz (1 year remaining at $10.9 million):
Memo boasts career averages of 13.7 ppg and 7.1 rpg, but injuries (he missed 69 contests last season) have limited Okur’s effectiveness. Still, as recently as 2008-2009 he averaged 17 points and 7.7 boards while shooting 48.5% from the floor, 44.6% from three-point territory, and 82% from the charity stripe. Although Okur only has one season left on his current contract, the Jazz don’t have any other obvious candidates that they’d use their amnesty provision on. Thus, Okur could be cut loose. If Memo is healthy (he reportedly looked healthy while playing in Europe this summer), he certainly would be a solid pickup for any number of teams
Chris Andersen – Denver Nuggets (3 years remaining – $13.6 million):
Al Harrington (who has four years and over $27 million left on his deal) is widely assumed to be the Nuggets likely amnesty causality, but Denver will certainly have to consider Anderson. Although Harrington is definitely overpaid, the forward depth on the Nuggets roster has been greatly reduced by a Chinese exodus – Wilson Chandler, Kenyon Martin, and J.R. Smith have all signed with teams in China. In addition, Harrington has been a dependable scorer his entire career. The Birdman, on the other hand, has seen both his health and production deteriorate since the Nuggets signed him to a massive five-year contract in July of 2009. Anderson, who is 33 years old and has received lengthy drug-related suspensions in the past, appeared in just 45 games last season and averaged just 16 minutes a night. Furthermore, Anderson’s deal is back-loaded, paying him $4.8 million in 2013-2014. It is difficult to predict what the Birdman will be able to contribute on the floor in the future but if the Nuggets send him packing, you know plenty of GMs would be willing to roll the dice. Anderson, when healthy and on his game, can be one of the more exciting and electrifying defensive forces in the entire sport.
Brendan Haywood – Dallas Mavericks (4 years at $34.9 million + Team Option of $10.5 million for 2015-2016):
Haywood came into the league with legit size and strength, yet never quite delivered the production expected of him. However, he strung together a few impressive months in Washington prior to becoming a free agent, which netted him a huge payday from the Dallas Mavericks. Haywood eventually lost his starting spot to Tyson Chandler and spent last year as a reserve off the Mavs bench. As someone who is set to make $9.8 million in 2015, Haywood is obviously overpaid. Still, if the Mavs are unable to retain Tyson Chandler (a pending unrestricted free agent), would Mark Cuban be willing to knowingly overpay for Haywood to make sure Dallas has at least a decent starting center on their roster.
DeSagana Diop – Charlotte Bobcats (2 years – $14.3 million):
There are a lot of bad contracts in the NBA, but Diop’s is right up there amongst the worst in the entire league. During the 2010-2011 campaign, Diop earned $6.4 million, yet over the course of the entire season, he tallied more fouls (26) than points scored (20). This is one of the easiest decisions any team will make – Diop is getting dropped. And because so many NBA teams are so desperate to add size up front, somebody will scoop him up on the cheap.
Hasheem Thabeet – Houston Rockets (2 years at $11.6 million + Qualifying Offer for $8.4 million for 2013-2014):
When the Grizzlies selected Thabeet second overall in the 2009 draft, most pundits panned the pick as an enormous reach. The Grizz defended the decision at first, but soon realized they had a depreciating asset on their hands. Memphis traded Hasheem to the Rockets at last February’s trade deadline (along with a future first-round pick) in exchange for Shane Battier, who is now an unrestricted free agent. Thabeet, who was averaging just 1.1 ppg for the Grizz, appeared in just two games and played a total of four minutes for the Rockets over the second half of the season. Thabeet’s NBA future is murky at the moment. While still young and still very tall, his upside appears quite limited. Are the Rockets willing to bet $11+ million that they can turn him into a productive player? Stay tuned…
Darko Milicic – Minnesota Timberwolves (3 years – $15.7 million):
Midway through the 2009-2010 season, while buried on the Knicks bench, a frustrated Darko Milicic declared publicly that he had had enough of the NBA and would continue his career in Europe once that season ended. Then, at the trade deadline, the Knicks shipped him to the T-Wolves simply to save some money. A funny thing happened on the way to Europe… Darko actually played relatively well for the Wolves. Next thing ya know, Minnesota GM David Khan signed Darko to a four-year deal, which shocked just about everyone in the league. Milicic has had some moments in Minny, but Khan would probably still like a mulligan on that signing; he may get that chance via the amnesty option. (Other possibilities on the Timberwolves roster include Luke Ridnour and Nikola Pekovic.)
Chris Kaman – Los Angeles Clippers (1 year remaining at $12.2 million):
L.A. does have a few other ‘Amnesty Clause’ options (Ryan Gomes; maybe Mo Williams?), but Kaman (the team’s highest paid player), even though he has just one year left on his deal, might be an intriguing choice for spendthrift owner Donald Sterling. Power forward Blake Griffin is the face of the Clips franchise and his buddy DeAndre Jordan is viewed by most as L.A.’s center of the future. Jordan is a restricted free agent and if the Clippers lock him up to a lucrative long-term deal, might the Clips let Kaman loose, thus clearing over $12 million off the books. L.A. could then use a healthy chunk of that money to pay Jordan. If Kaman ever did hit the free agent market, teams would be lining up to secure his services. Seven-footers that possess his offensive arsenal and ability to board are extremely rare in today’s NBA. When healthy and featured offensively, he’s put up some monster numbers. As evidence, check out his production over the first half of the 2009-2010 season. In the 46 games the Clippers played prior to the All-Star game, Kaman started all 46 contests and averaged 20 points per game, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks. Those stats earned him an All-Star invitation. There simply aren’t many big men in the NBA today that can match those numbers. However, it should be noted, Chris has been somewhat inconsistent and he’s been bit by the injury bug quite frequently (he has missed 50+ games in two of the previous three seasons). Yet, again, plenty of teams would love to take a chance on proven post player with Kaman’s credentials.
Andris Biedrins – Golden State Warriors (3 years – $27 million):
Like Kaman, Biedrins is a talented, athletic big man with a monstrous contract that could find himself looking for a new team once the lockout ends. Biedrins entered the league as a skinny teenager from Latvia. Not surprisingly, it took a while for the youngster to adjust to America and the NBA. He averaged less than four points and four boards over his first two seasons, playing sporadic minutes for Golden State. But Andris took a huge step forward in 2006-2007, his third season, more than doubling his scoring and rebounding output, while also averaging a career-high 1.7 blocks. Over the following two seasons, his progression continued (in 2007-2008, he led the entire league in field-goal shooting percentage) and he posted doubles-doubles on a nightly basis. He was rewarded with a massive $45 million contract in the summer of 2009. Yet Biedrins’ play and production have regressed a bit over the previous two years. He averaged just five points per game in each of the last two seasons. Worse yet, he has been unable to stay on the floor, missing a total of 72 games over that stretch. (How about this stat: Biedrins shot 32.3% from the free-throw stripe in 2010-2011. The real bad news: That was actually a huge improvement over his 2009-2010 percentage: 16.0%). However, he’d be a great fit on a team that could ask him focus only on rebounding and protecting the paint. A team such as the New York Knicks, who have plenty of scorers, would love to add Andris to their roster.
Possible (But Certainly Unlikely) Amnesty Casualties:
Joel Anthony – Miami Heat (4 years – $14.9 million):
Some eyebrows were raised when Pat Riley signed Anthony, a relatively unproven commodity, to a five-year, $18 million deal, but Anthony played well for Miami, who were desperate for a center after committing the majority of their cap space to lure the Big 3 to South Beach. Anthony did exactly what was asked of him: rebound the basketball, set screens, and block a few shots. The HEAT could not have asked for much more. However, with a reduced salary cap, it will be even harder for Riley and the Miami brain trust to flesh out the roster around LeBron, Wade and Bosh. Having roughly $3.7 million a season tied up in Anthony is significant, especially if the Miami feels they might be able secure an upgrade at center via free agency (such as Samuel Dalembert?). Or what if Riley thinks he could get one of players listed above to sign in Miami at a significant discount if they were let go by their current teams? It will be interesting to learn complete details of the amnesty clause, such as when teams would have to announce who they will use their amnesty option on. It could turn into a poker game among rival executives. All that said, many pundits believe the HEAT will end up using their amnesty provision on Mike Miller – who is set to earn $24 million over the next four seasons.
Jermaine O’Neal – Boston Celtics (1 year – $6.3 million):
After averaging at least 13 points per game for 10 straight seasons, O’Neal averaged a paltry 5.4 ppg during his first year in Boston. Injuries have reduced O’Neal to a shell of his former self and forced him to the sideline for the majority of the regular season. JO returned for the playoffs and actually played well against the Knicks in the first round, but eventually broke down against Miami (it was later revealed Jermaine was playing with a fractured wrist). However, with Shaq retired and Kendrick Perkins now in Oklahoma City, the Celtics have nobody else currently on their roster to even consider plugging in at center. Thus, the C’s will likely hold onto O’Neal and pray they can get one more productive season out of him.
Emeka Okafor – New Orleans Hornets (3 years – $40.6 million):
Okafor was projected to develop into a superstar center after a stellar and successful career at UCONN. He entered the NBA at 22 and was ready to contribute immediately. Emeka averaged 15 points and 11 boards as a rookie, earning him 2004-2005 Rookie of the Year honors. He went on to average a double-double in each of his first five professional seasons. However, his scoring and rebounding numbers have steadily declined. Last season as a Hornet Okafor averaged a career-low 10.3 points and 9.5 boards. Still, as has been detailed in this space, there are so few quality centers in today’s NBA. Would the Hornets really be willing to part with such a consistent and reliable pivot? How would Chris Paul feel about losing his starting center? The other player New Orleans might consider axing would be Jarrett Jack, who has played well, but is due nearly $11 million over the next two seasons. If teams have the option to wait two years before exercising their amnesty, the Hornets may wait until next summer to make the decision. Yet, with David West about to hit free agency unrestricted, might New Orleans considering clearing cap space immediately to keep West in New Orleans?
Marcus Camby – Portland Trail Blazers (1 year, $9.3 million):
At some point, the Blazers will have to make an agonizing decision: Should they cut ties with Brandon Roy? Although he’s owed nearly $50 million over the next three seasons (with an exorbitant player option on the back end), he’s the face of the franchise and, for a quarter here and there, can morph into a super hero on the hardwood. However, his knees are only getting worse and the prognosis is bleak. Very bleak, depending on which doctors you ask. If Portland decided they couldn’t handle seeing Roy sign with another organization, they might consider parting with Camby.
Amir Johnson – Toronto Raptors (3 years, $18 million):
Amir didn’t do much to justify his big contract last season, but he is still young and shows intermittent flashes of supreme athleticism. Unfortunately, he has trouble staying out of foul trouble long enough to supply consistent/reliable production. Still, the far more likely causality candidates are Linas Kleiza (3 years, $13.8 million) or Jose Calderon (2 years, $20.3 million).
Johan Petro – New Jersey Nets (2 years, $6.8 million):
It would be shocking if the Nets used the amnesty option on anyone other than Travis Outlaw (four years, $28 million) but if they did, Johan Petro would be second in line. Even so, Petro wouldn’t generate much excitement on the open market.