For most of the NBA’s history, talented centers have frequently been crucial centerpieces for championship teams. Having a top-tier center was all but essential for sustained success. This was especially true during the NBA’s formative years. For instance, from 1957 through 1980, 22 of the 23 players named MVP were centers. Yes, only once over the course of that 23-year period did a non-center (Oscar Robertson in 1964) take home MVP honors. And in the 1990s, big men were again front and center. For instance, in 1993-94 (following Michael Jordan’s first retirement) four centers finished in the top-five in MVP voting (Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal and Patrick Ewing).
However, today’s NBA is far different in many ways. Traditionally dominant back-to-the-basket centers are all but extinct. Guards and wings dominate the league. A center hasn’t taken home MVP honors since the early 2000s. In fact, over the last 10 years, only once has a center even cracked the top three in MVP voting.
Nonetheless, many bigs still play an undeniably important role on many great teams throughout the league. As Pat Riley was famously fond of saying: “No rebounds, no rings.” That old adage still holds true today. Furthermore, the best teams in the NBA consistently rank in the top-10 in defensive efficiency. Rim protectors and big men that patrol the paint are often the last line of defense.
Thus, centers and power forwards still hold plenty of value, especially for teams that have plenty of complimentary pieces but are missing a burly big man to help anchor the offense and defense.
Fortunately, for teams such as the Portland Trail Blazers, Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors who may need such a player to help push them over the top, there are number of quality centers that will likely be available (for the right price) on the open market in the coming months. The NBA’s trade deadline is now less than two months away and many offseason signings become eligible to be traded on December 15th, which increases the chances of deals being discussed and, eventually, consummated.
Here is a list of the most valued and desired big men that may potentially be on the block:
DeMarcus Cousins – Sacramento Kings:
It’s extremely rare that a player as talented as Cousins is available via trade. However, the clock is ticking on the Kings, who have some very difficult decisions to make in the very near future. DMC’s current contract expires at the end of next season, which means he will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2018 unless the Kings sign him to an extension prior to that date.
The relationship between Sacramento and Cousins has been rocky at times, to say the least. He has failed to co-exist with a number of different head coaches. Cousins’ inability to control his temper has also resulted in a league-leading nine technical fouls already this season. And looking at the big picture, the Kings have yet to qualify for the postseason even once in the six seasons he has spent in Sacramento.
On the flip side of the coin, it could easily be argued that Cousins has been a victim of the dysfunction in the Kings organization. More importantly, Cousins may be the most physically gifted center in the NBA today. There simply isn’t anything he can’t do on a basketball court. He is on pace to become the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in 2000-01 to average at least 28 points, 10 rebounds and three assists per game over the course of a full season. In fact, dating back to 1975, there have been only five players to average 28/10/3: Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, David Robinson, Karl Malone and Shaq.
For obvious reasons, Cousins will be extremely costly for any team willing to engage the Kings in trade talks. Still, Sacramento is in a tough position. If they don’t trade him and then fail to re-sign him in 2018, it would be a crippling blow for the franchise, one from which it would extremely difficult to recover. If they are going to move him, it would behoove them to do so sooner rather than later. If they attempted to trade him in 2018, he would be viewed only as a rental. They would be able to ask for far more in return if they would be willing to trade him this season.
Greg Monroe – Milwaukee Bucks:
It has been a disappointing season for Monroe in Milwaukee. He hasn’t started a single game and was banished to coach Jason Kidd’s doghouse last month. For a while, he was the odd man out in the middle (behind John Henson and Miles Plumlee) and seeing very limited playing time. He was even surprisingly slapped with a DNP-CD on November 17th.
He has played a bit better of late and has earned more consistent playing time. Still, his numbers are well below his career averages. Over his last 15 games, Monroe is averaging just 8.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 0.3 blocks.
Monroe has a player option in his contract that will allow him to become an unrestricted free agent in July of 2017. Considering his reduced role in Milwaukee and the incredible contracts secured by even mediocre players this past summer as the salary cap continues to rise, it would be surprising if Monroe did not opt out in July. As a result, it is safe to assume the Bucks will be very motivated sellers at the deadline, hoping to move Monroe in exchange for assets that could advance their rebuilding efforts. Still just 26 years old, Monroe averaged over 15 points and nine rebounds per game in each of his final four seasons in Detroit. There will likely be plenty of interested suitors if the Bucks’ asking price is reasonable.
Nerlens Noel / Jahlil Okafor – Philadelphia 76ers:
The Sixers have four young centers on their roster: Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Richaun Holmes. Three of them (Noel, Okafor and Embiid) were drafted in the top half of the lottery. Now that all three are (almost) finally healthy, coach Brett Brown is tasked with the very difficult job of figuring out how to distribute minutes in an attempt to keep them all happy. Noel let his feeling be known on the eve of training camp back in October.
“I don’t see a way of it working. It’s just a logjam,” Noel said. “You’ve got three talented centers that can play 30-plus minutes a night and three centers can’t play 30 minutes a night. That’s that. Things need to be situated. Obviously, somebody’s got to be moved around. It’s a tough situation, but I can only say so much because I have no say and no power.”
Noel said this before Embiid started playing incredibly well once the regular season commenced. Embiid is the run-away favorite to take home the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award. His per-36 minute averages are mind-boggling: 27.8 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3.9 blocks. It is safe to assume that Embiid is now untouchable. Consequently, the Sixers will likely focus on attempting to move Noel or Okafor. Okafor is under team control on his rookie contract for at least two more seasons, whereas Noel will be a restricted free agent this summer.
Okafor had a roller-coaster rookie campaign. He had a number of issues off the court and struggled mightily on the defensive end of the floor. However, Okafor was arguably even better than advertised offensively. In fact, Okafor became just the sixth player in NBA history to average at least 17 points and seven rebounds while shooting above 50 percent from the floor, all before turning 21. Per Basketball-reference.com, the other five members of that exclusive club are Magic Johnson, Adrian Dantley, Chris Weber, Shaquille O’Neal and Karl-Anthony Towns. This season, Okafor has been hampered by his own injury issues and has struggled as a sophomore. However, he still possesses the potential to develop into one of the NBA’s truly elite low-post scorers.
When healthy, Noel is one of the more versatile and athletic defensive-minded big men in the NBA. In 2014-15, he became the first rookie in NBA history to average at least 1.7 blocks and 1.7 steals per game. Noel was back at it again last season, patrolling the paint in Philadelphia, leading the 76ers in defensive rebounds and steals and was second on the team in blocks. His offensive game is limited, but he could flourish in the right situation.
Kenneth Faried – Denver Nuggets:
Like the Sixers, the Nuggets simply have too many bigs crowded in their frontcourt. Faried, Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic are all averaging between 21 and 24 minutes per game. They also have Danilo Gallinari playing 35 minutes a night and Wilson Chandler at 30.8, in addition to Darrell Arthur and Juan Hernangomez seeing 12-plus minutes per game off the bench.
Faried is the player most likely to be dealt in order to alleviate the logjam. Both Jokic and Nurkic on are making less than $3 million this season and next. Faried is set to make $12.9 million in 2017-18 and $13.8 million in 2018-19. He’s averaging career-lows in points (nine) and minutes (22.4), while also averaging fewer than five defensive rebounds per game for the first time since his rookie campaign. Nonetheless, he has shown intermittent flashes of excellence, specifically the energy and tenacity that earned him his large contract. He’s played over 22 minutes in 15 games this season and posted a double-double in five of those contests.
Brook Lopez – Brooklyn Nets:
It seems as though Lopez’s name has been bandied about in the rumor mill going on three years straight. In some respects, it seems logical for the Nets to trade away their best player for a package that facilitates their ongoing rebuild. However, the Celtics own Brooklyn’s first-round pick each of the next two years, so the Nets don’t have the same motivation to strip down their roster and bottom out as do many of the other teams near the bottom of the NBA barrel.
Lopez was already one the most dangerous offensive centers in the league, and this season he has added the three-point shot to his arsenal. Coming into this year, Lopez had made a total of three three-pointers over the first eight seasons of his career (487 games). This season, through just 21 games, Lopez has knocked down 42 triples. He is one of just four players with at least 40 three-pointers and 30 blocks this season, joining DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Durant and Kristaps Porzingis.
Tyson Chandler – Phoenix Suns:
Chandler has been a rebounding machine this season, especially of late. He averaged 11.3 rebounds per game in October, then 12 in November. For December, he’s up to 13 boards per contest. In fact, Chandler has pulled down 44 rebounds in the Suns’ last two games alone. His contract isn’t appealing (he’ll make an average of $13 million per year over the next two seasons) but that is a bit easier to swallow with the cap increasing.
Andrew Bogut – Dallas Mavericks:
Bogut is on the shelf at the moment, dealing with a bone bruise in his right knee which could keep him sidelined through the end of the month. Staying healthy is obviously a major issue, but he is a force, especially on the defensive end, whenever he is even remotely close to 100 percent. He’s playing out the last year of his contract, so if he is back on the court and playing well in February, he could be intriguing to a team that is looking to rent an elite rim protector for the final few months of the regular season and into the playoffs.
Nikola Vucevic – Orlando Magic:
Over the past two seasons (2014-15 and 2015-16), Vucevic averaged 18.8 points, 10 rebounds and 2.3 assists. It certainly seemed he was viewed as a franchise cornerstone and the Magic’s center of the present and the future. Then, on draft day this past summer, the Magic traded for Serge Ibaka. But Ibaka can play power forward, so that wasn’t a huge deal, right?
Well, in July, Orlando signed Bismack Biyombo to a four-year, $72 million contract.
Vucevic has now been coming off the bench consistently for the first time since his rookie season. As a result, his scoring average has plummeted (12.2 points per game) and he hasn’t been able to find his groove this season. He’s locked into a relatively cap-friendly contract, making less than $13 million per year through 2018-19. If the Magic would be willing to listen to offers, there would be plenty of teams willing to take Vooch off their hands.
Timofey Mozgov – Los Angeles Lakers:
Many pundits panned L.A.’s signing of Mozgov as soon as it was announced and, unfortunately for the Lakers, the early returns have not been overly encouraging. Mozgov, at 4.7 rebounds per game, is currently fifth on the Lakers in rebounding, behind Julius Randle, Larry Nance, Tarik Black and Luol Deng.
Joakim Noah / Willy Hernangomez / Kyle O’Quinn – New York Knicks:
Depth is a good problem to have, but it’s an issue nonetheless. Noah is signed to a massive contract and it was assumed he would handle the bulk of minutes at the five and do most of the heavy lifting down low. However, Kyle O’Quinn is playing some of the best basketball of his career and has earned the right to increased playing time. Over his last six games, O’Quinn’s per-36 minute averages are undeniably impressive: 16.3 points, 16 rebounds and 2.6 blocks, while shooting 64.8 percent from the floor. In addition, he now leads the team in PER (21.5) this season.
Hernangomez has been also been a pleasant surprise for the Knicks. He currently leads the team in both True Shooting percentage (60.6) and Effective Field Goal percentage (57.9) and ranks first on the Knicks in defensive rebounds per 100 possessions (11.6).
Add to the equation that the team’s best player, Kristaps Porzingis, is at his best when playing at the five, and the situation only gets murkier.
If Derrick Rose’s injury is in any way serious, might the Knicks consider trading from their surplus of bigs to add depth in the backcourt?
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