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NBA PM: 10 Centers the Cavaliers Should Target

Which big men should the Cleveland Cavaliers target in trades and free agency? Here are 10 options.

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Since the start of the 2014-15 NBA season, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been searching for a big man. The team realized early on that they needed to add an interior presence and general manager David Griffin and his staff have been working the phones ever since.

Cleveland’s big men have left a lot to be desired, as the Cavs rank 26th in rebounds per game, 22nd in blocks per game and 22nd in overall defense. Teams often dominate the glass and get easy baskets in the paint against Cleveland, and the team’s frontcourt just got even weaker now that Anderson Varejao has been ruled out for the remainder of the season due to a ruptured Achilles tendon.

What options do the Cavaliers have as they look to add a rim protector? Here are 10 big men whom Cleveland should target:

Brandan Wright, Boston Celtics – The Boston Celtics just acquired Wright as part of the Rajon Rondo trade with the Dallas Mavericks, but reports have suggested that the 27-year-old big man could be dealt again before the February 19 trade deadline. The Cavaliers have already expressed interest in Wright, according to reports, and he would seemingly be a perfect fit for them. Wright is a good interior defender, averaging 1.4 blocks in 17.7 minutes, and he leads the league in individual defensive rating. He also thrives in the pick-and-roll and is one of the most efficient players in the NBA, shooting an NBA-best 73.2 percent from the field to average 8.2 points per game. Boston is loaded with frontcourt players, which makes Wright somewhat expendable, and it seems that they’re open to flipping the veteran big man to acquire other assets that would help them rebuild. Wright is making $5 million this season, so his salary would fit into Cleveland’s $5.2 million traded player exception.

Timofey Mozgov, Denver Nuggets – The Cavaliers, and other teams, have reportedly been trying to pry Mozgov away from the Nuggets for some time now. He has proven to be a starting-caliber center, averaging nine points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 26 minutes per game. Because Denver has a number of quality big men (including JaVale McGee, Jusuf Nurkic and J.J. Hickson), it’s possible that they would consider moving Mozgov if the right offer presented itself. They have previously rejected overtures for Mozgov, but that could change, especially if the Nuggets continue to struggle and sit outside of the Western Conference playoff picture. The 28-year-old Mozgov, who is 7’1, would be an excellent solution for the Cavaliers’ interior issues and it seems he is one of their top targets at the moment.

Kosta Koufos, Memphis Grizzlies – Koufos is another player who has been linked to the Cavaliers throughout this season. He would be a perfect rim protector for Cleveland, as he averages 4.2 rebounds and one block despite playing only 15.1 minutes per game on the Grizzlies. He averages 3.3 blocks per 48 minutes, which ranks 10th in the NBA. Because he plays behind Marc Gasol, Koufos’ minutes are limited in Memphis, and his camp has reportedly voiced their displeasure with his diminished role. They would likely be open to a trade to Cleveland since it would allow Koufos to play more minutes and shine on a national stage in a contract year. At only 25 years old, it’s possible that Koufos’ best basketball may still be ahead of him and an increased role could allow him to take his game to another level. Koufos is making just $3 million this season so he’s an excellent bargain and would fit into Cleveland’s $5.2 million TPE. While the Cavs would love to acquire Koufos, Memphis hasn’t shown a willingness to part ways with him, as he’s the only backup center on their roster and there’s really no reason for them make any drastic changes considering they’re one of the best teams in the NBA.

Jordan Hill, Los Angeles Lakers – With the Lakers struggling and sitting at the bottom of the Western Conference, many executives will be calling Mitch Kupchak in an attempt to steal away some of his veteran contributors. Moving some of their best players, like Hill, could make sense for the Lakers in the long run as they need to land a top-five pick in order to keep their lottery selection, otherwise it’ll go to the Phoenix Suns due to the Steve Nash trade. While the organization has insisted that they won’t tank, trading away veterans for picks and prospects would seemingly be best for the franchise since they’re rebuilding. Hill is an attractive asset, as he’s having the best year of his career. He’s averaging 12.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and one block – all of which are career-highs. He has been one of the few bright spots for the Lakers this season and many teams will likely be calling to express interest in the big man, who has a $9 million team option on his contract for next season. He’d be a very good pick up for Cleveland. Fellow Lakers big man Ed Davis could be an option as well, since he can test free agency this summer by opting out of his bargain contract. L.A. may trade Davis rather than risk losing him for nothing in the offseason. The Lakers just claimed center Tarik Black off of waivers, so they have plenty of big men and just may be willing to part ways with one of them.

Emeka Okafor, Free Agent – The only reason Okafor isn’t already on an NBA roster is because he is still recovering from a herniated disc in his back. There have been quite a few teams expressing interest in Okafor’s services, but he’s still recovering. However, some reports have indicated that he could be ready to play sometime in January, so he could emerge as a serious candidate to join the Cavs at that time. Other teams will likely call too, but few will be able to offer the significant role and chance to contend that Cleveland can. Okafor is a very good rim protector who has been a starting-caliber big man throughout his career. He has never averaged less than a block per game in any of his nine NBA seasons, and he last averaged 9.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and one block during his stint with the Washington Wizards in 2012-13. Okafor would make a lot of sense for Cleveland since he’s the type of big man they’re searching for, and they wouldn’t have to part ways with any assets since they could sign him outright.

Jermaine O’Neal, Free Agent – If Okafor isn’t healthy or chooses to sign elsewhere, O’Neal could be an option for the Cavs. He hasn’t decided if he’s going to play this season, but many people around the NBA expect him to sign with a team and suit up for one final season. He has said that he’ll choose one way or the other in early January, so an announcement is likely coming from him very soon. O’Neal obviously has a lot of wear and tear on his body after playing 18 seasons in the NBA, but he has held up pretty well. After a rough two-year stint with the Boston Celtics in which he struggled, O’Neal bounced back with two solid seasons – one with the Phoenix Suns and one with the Golden State Warriors. O’Neal is a solid rebounder and interior defender, and when pressed into the starting lineup due to injuries last year in Golden State, he came through by averaging 10.5 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks. He’s obviously not a long-term solution for Cleveland, but he could help them this year. Some reports have indicated that O’Neal is leaning toward signing with the Dallas Mavericks, which could rule him out as an option for Cleveland.

Samuel Dalembert, New York Knicks – The possibility of Dalembert landing in Cleveland was recently tweeted by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. He said that if all of their other options fall through, Dalembert is available and could be a last resort for the Cavs. The 33-year-old is averaging four points, 5.3 rebounds an 1.3 blocks in 17 minutes for New York this season. While he’s not the most productive big man, he does rebound and block shots, which is all Cleveland really needs from their center. It’s worth noting that Dalembert is making $4,051,527 this season, so the Cavs could acquire him using their $5.2 million TPE. With New York struggling and sitting at the bottom of the standings, it’s possible that they’ll look to trade away some of their veterans in order to acquire assets that will help them rebuild.

Bismack Biyombo, Charlotte Hornets – Biyombo is the youngest and rawest player on this list, but he could be an interesting option for Cleveland. The 22-year-old was the seventh overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, but he hasn’t lived up to expectations. Instead, he has settled into a role as a reserve center for Charlotte, playing limited minutes behind Al Jefferson over the last two seasons. Still, he’s a solid shot blocker, averaging 1.3 blocks in 14.2 minutes and never averaging below 1.1 blocks in a season during his four-year career. He is second in the NBA in blocks per 48 minutes (4.24) and he would likely be one of the better shot-blockers in the league if given more minutes (and if he learns to limit his fouls). He’s not skilled on the offensive end and can’t do much aside from block shots, but that’s the main thing Cleveland needs since they don’t have a rim protector on their roster. Also, Biyombo could becomes a long-term answer for Cleveland as he continues to develop. It remains to be seen if Charlotte would part ways with Biyombo, but they have reportedly been active in trade discussions as they look for ways to shake up their roster to salvage their season after a rough start. Moving Biyombo for a veteran who could help them win now may interest them. Biyombo also fits into Cleveland’s $5.2 million TPE since he’s making just $3,873,398 this season. This wouldn’t be as ideal as acquiring a veteran like Mozgov or Koufos who’s already fully developed, but it could be an option if those players aren’t obtainable.

Jeff Withey, New Orleans Pelicans – Withey hasn’t played much since being drafted by the Pelicans in the second round of last year’s draft, but he’s a 24-year-old rim protector who could be available. Withey is barely playing for New Orleans this season, appearing in just 17 games and averaging 6.7 minutes since he’s buried on the depth chart behind veterans Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca, but that just means it’d be relatively easy to pry him from the Pelicans. Unlike most second-year players, Withey is ready to contribute right now since he spent four years in college, where he emerged as one of the best big men in the nation while at Kansas. Remember, as a senior he averaged 3.9 blocks per game and was named the National Defensive Player of the Year. Last year when he got the chance to start four games for New Orleans, he averaged 2.8 blocks. Many NBA fans have no idea who Withey is, but a move to Cleveland could give him the chance to display his skills and he could be exactly what the Cavaliers are looking for from their center. Withey is the cheapest option on this list, making just $816,482 this season.

Willie Reed, Grand Rapids Drive – Reed is the lone D-League player on this list, but he warrants a mention since he has been one of the top centers in that league this season. The 24-year-old has significantly improved the Grand Rapids Drive since joining the team and he has filled the stat sheet, averaging 12.6 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. He has been incredibly efficient as well, shooting a ridiculous 70.4 percent from the field. Reed is a high-energy player and rim protector who would be perfect for Cleveland. He has had previous stints with the Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings and Brooklyn Nets, so he’s no stranger to the NBA. If the Cavaliers can’t trade for a big man, calling up Reed or another top D-League big man could be a solid back-up plan for Cleveland and one that wouldn’t require them to part ways with any of their assets.

Harden, Butler Named NBA Players of the Week

The Chicago Bulls’ Jimmy Butler and the Houston Rockets’ James Harden today were named NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played Monday, Dec. 22, through Sunday, Dec. 28.

Butler led the Bulls to a 4-0 week behind averages of 23.0 points (seventh in the conference), 7.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.0 blocks. His 40.2 minutes per contest led the league. On Dec. 22, Butler went 11-for-11 at the foul line en route to 27 points, and added 11 rebounds, five blocks and four assists during a 129-120 win over the Toronto Raptors.

Harden helped the Rockets to a 2-1 week, which included wins over the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies. He averaged a league-best 34.7 points and added 7.3 assists (eighth in the conference), 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals. On Dec. 22, Harden posted 44 points, seven assists, five steals and three rebounds during a 110-95 win over the Trail Blazers.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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