The Center Crop

Editor's Note: Front-paged

While most of the buzz around the Mavs' 2012 free agency surrounds Deron Williams, it is painfully clear that Dallas needs more production from the center spot.

With this in mind, I thought I would take a look at all the Mavericks' options at the center position.

1. Keep Brendan Haywood and sign a quality backup who could possibly compete with him. To most Mavs fans, including me, this seems like the most unpalatable option. Haywood, on paper, can be called a "solid" center. As in, he is a solid 263-lb mass whose biggest contribution is, at times, playing decent post defense. Unfortunately, he also possesses arguably the worst hands of any player in the league (except maybe Erick Dampier), has no offensive moves or great athleticism, and is on the wrong side of 30.

This isn't to say he's an awful player. But it is obvious by now that he should not be a starting center, and only is paid like one due to the ridiculous dearth of any quality centers in the league the last few years.

If the Mavs choose to keep Haywood, that would probably mean amnestying Shawn Marion. It is easier and cheaper to replace a swingman generally, but in this case it would mean saying goodbye to all of Marion's tough man-to-man defense, finishing ability in transition, and general offensive activity.

Any backup to Haywood would have to have size, as well, because I can't see the Mavs wanting to repeat this year's three-headed-monster with Brandan Wright and Ian Mahinmi getting reps at center. Options available: Greg Stiemsma, Ryan Hollins, Joel Pryzbilla, Greg Oden (wouldn't be able to play for at least one season, if at all), Hamed Haddadi, Semih Erden, Nazr Mohammed, etc.

Assuming Brendan Haywood is amnesty-ed, which, in all likelihood, he will be -- here are some starting centers available on the market. I am going to ignore centers like Roy Hibbert, Brook Lopez, Andrew Bynum, and JaVale McGee because they are all either likely to return on a team option or they are restricted free agents (whose offers will probably be matched).

2. Chris Kaman. Kaman figures to be the most attractive unrestricted free agent center on the open market. He has a pretty solid record of averaging 10-15 points and 8-10 rebounds a game numbers the Mavs could sorely use. There is also his personal familiarity with Dirk Nowitzki to consider, as both have played for the German national team. Kaman isn't a tough, intimidating presence a la Tyson Chandler, but he's a big, true-7-footer who could work well within the Mavs' system, and being only 30 years old, he could be very productive for the next three to four years. Unfortunately, Kaman also made $14 million last year. It's likely he will command less money than the $52.5-million 5-year deal he signed five years ago, but even still, it would be really tough for Dallas to get him without a significant discount.

3. Omer Asik. This is an intriguing option to me. Asik only plays around 14 to 20 minutes a game because the Bulls have a near All-Star-quality center in Joakim Noah, but when he does play, he's quite productive, with a good defensive reputation as a paint protector and shotblocker. He has deceptive quickness for a center, and isn't afraid to get physical. The main question about him is whether he is ready to be a starting-caliber player or just a very good backup. Keeping in mind that he is only 25 and has played very limited minutes, it's possible the Mavs could see him as a viable option.

4. Marcus Camby. Camby is a 37-year-old veteran who's been around the block a few times, and then a few more. Despite his age, though, he produced at a relatively high level last year for Houston, averaging 7 points a game with 9 rebounds in only 24 minutes. If Dallas is looking at getting a solid center on a 1-year deal so they can try and chase Dwight Howard in 2013, they may take this route.

5. Spencer Hawes. Hawes is a relative newcomer on the scene, but he's been gaining attention recently for his play for the 76ers against the Bulls. He averaged around 10 points and 7 rebounds in 25 minutes this season -- decent scoring numbers given the unselfish distribution offense the Sixers run, but somewhat low rebounding totals. Hawes plays with a bit of an edge, and reminds me quite a bit of Brad Miller because he's also able to hit the midrange shot. He is very different from the last few centers the Mavs have employed, but he's so young (only 24) that the Mavs could have an interest.

6. Others -- Mehmet Okur, Kevin Garnett, Hasheem Thabeet, Joel Pryzbilla, Greg Oden

Quick thoughts on these people:

- Okur was waived by the Blazers in March after being traded there by the Nets. He hasn't had a productive season since 2009-10 when he averaged 13.5 points and 7 rebounds for the Jazz. If Deron Williams bolts for Dallas, a reunion of former Jazz teammates could be in order.

- Garnett is commonly listed as a power forward, but has played mostly center this year for the Celtics, creating several unique mismatches with opposing centers. While he provides great toughness and rim protection and sets aggressive screens on offense, he also appears to be unlikely to mesh well with Nowitzki on offense and has expressed interest in returning to Boston at a reduced salary.

- Thabeet is the 25-year-old former No. 2 draft pick by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2009. While his career has really flamed out in several stops, he could be an intriguing guy for the Mavs to acquire and try to groom. They have recently tried this strategy with Brandan Wright and Sean Williams, with mixed results. One thing is clear: Thabeet is very big -- 7'3 and 263 pounds.

- Pryzbilla is a 32-year-old who has played most of his career in Portland. If not as a starter, he could be brought in to bolster bench depth at center. He's not really a factor on offense, but has maintained good rebounding averages despite lessened minutes.

- Oden has attracted significant fan interest because of his uber-high ceiling and knee injuries. He plans on taking off the 2012-13 season to rehab in Columbus, Ohio and then return to basketball in 2013. Down the road, assuming Oden can get back somewhat healthy, this seems like a low-risk high-reward proposition.

In the end, there is a great deal of uncertainty about what the Mavs can do at this slot. These are the options I see on the table, but they could change in an instant with some spur-of-the-moment trade. The Mavs could also choose to address their lack of a center in the draft, but most projections have them picking athletic backcourt or wing players.

Let's hope they get this sorted out. I, for one, never want to see the three-headed monster again.

Reader Submitted

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