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Ranking The Free Agents – Centers

There aren’t many game-changing centers on the market, but Spencer Davies believes there’s plenty of good options out there.

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As the moratorium period approaches fast, the fifth and final installment of Basketball Insiders’ free agent rankings focuses on the class of centers.

To refresh your memory, last week the NBA informed teams that the salary cap for the 2017-18 season is projected to be $99 million, slightly lower than what it was projected to be for much of last season. Based on this, maximum salaries are expected to amount to the following:

  • $25,250,000 for players with 0-6 years of experience
  • $30,300,000 for players with 7-9 years of experience
  • $35,350,000 for players with 10 or more years of experience

Aside from the maximum values, the mid-level exception for teams in year one is set at $8,406,000.

Knowing this, let’s take a glimpse at this year’s group of fives.

Max Guys / Near Max Guys

Nerlens Noel* – Dallas Mavericks – Last Year’s Salary: $4,384,490

After acquiring him before the trade deadline last season, the Mavericks have made it clear that they covet Noel as their center of the future.

Under a new system in Dallas, Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle took advantage of his ability to cut to the basket and draw defenses in, leaving players open on the perimeter to shoot. He was also an aggressive finisher at the rim, especially on lob passes.

Because of this and his obvious rim-protecting prowess, Noel received consistent playing time and was utilized in a prominent role on the floor in only 22 games with the team.

It’s been reported already that the Mavericks are expected to tender their qualifying offer to Noel, making him a restricted free agent and allowing themselves to match any bid made by other teams interested in bringing him in.

Depending on his value on the open market, the 23-year-old may not be offered a maximum contract due to a lack of a jump shot, but he’s definitely the best center among his peers with plenty of untapped potential.

Above Mid-Level Guys

Pau Gasol – San Antonio Spurs – Last Year’s Salary: $15,500,000

Approaching his 17th season as one of the most respected and impactful big men in the NBA, Gasol will still be paid handsomely despite turning 37 years old on the day free agency signings officially begin.

Being the team player that he is, the seven-foot Spaniard agreed to opt out of his player option in order to re-negotiate a contract with the Spurs as an unrestricted free agent, giving the organization more flexibility for their offseason wishes.

The deal will reportedly be restructured to clear cap space and will likely be short-term.

Mason Plumlee* – Denver Nuggets – Last Year’s Salary: $2,328,530

Whether it’s off the bench as a backup or on the court next to Nikola Jokic, Plumlee has proven himself as one of the most dynamic centers in the game.

Similar to his teammate, he can offer production with assists, on the glass and inside. According to multiple reports, the Nuggets are expected to make the qualifying offer to Plumlee to make him a restricted free agent.

Javale McGee – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $980,431

There isn’t a single center in this crop of free agents that will have rightfully earned a payday like McGee did.

Through the ups and downs that his career has seen, the 29-year-old provided a spark off Steve Kerr’s bench and played with unrelenting energy on both ends. The turnaround is a great story to follow, and it’ll surely result with a deserving contract.

Nene – Houston Rockets – Last Year’s Salary: $2,898,000

Zaza Pachulia – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $2,898,000

Kelly Olynyk*– Boston Celtics – Last Year’s Salary: $3,094,013

Richaun Holmes**– Philadelphia 76ers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,025,831

Dewayne Dedmon – San Antonio Spurs – Last Year’s Salary: $2.898,00

Alex Len* – Phoenix Suns – Last Year’s Salary: $4,823,821

Mid-Level or Below Guys

Andrew Bogut – Cleveland Cavaliers – Last Year’s Salary: $385,000

Aron Baynes – Detroit Pistons – Last Year’s Salary: $6,500,000

Spencer Hawes – Milwaukee Bucks – Last Year’s Salary: $6,348,758

Tyler Zeller**– Boston Celtics – Last Year’s Salary: $8,000,000

Salah Mejri** – Dallas Mavericks – Last Year’s Salary: $874,636

Festus Ezeli – Portland Trail Blazers – Last Year’s Salary: $7,400,000

Roy Hibbert – Denver Nuggets – Last Year’s Salary: $5,000,000

Mike Muscala – Atlanta Hawks – Last Year’s Salary: $1,015,696

Cristiano Felicio** – Chicago Bulls – Last Year’s Salary: $874,636

Anderson Varejao – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $980,431

Jeff Withey – Utah Jazz – Last Year’s Salary: $1,015,696

Chris Andersen – Charlotte Hornets – Last Year’s Salary: $980,431

Jordan Hill – Minnesota Timberwolves – Last Year’s Salary: $4,000,000

Joel Anthony – San Antonio Spurs – Last Year’s Salary: $346,034

Tiago Splitter – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Year’s Salary: $8,550,000

Edy Tavares** – Cleveland Cavaliers – Last Year’s Salary: $5,145

Stephen Zimmerman** – Orlando Magic – Last Year’s Salary: $950,000

Larry Sanders – Cleveland Cavaliers – Last Year’s Salary: $207,722

Mitch McGary – Oklahoma City Thunder – Last Year’s Salary: $1,526,040

*Qualifying Offer (If made, player becomes restricted free agent)
**Non-Guaranteed Contract (If player is waived by current team before contract becomes fully guaranteed, becomes unrestricted free agent)

As you can tell, it’ll be slim pickings if you’re searching for a game-changing big. But by the same token, if a team is seeking somebody they don’t have to rely on primarily, there are some decent options to look at to make an impact with the second unit.

Spencer Davies is a Deputy Editor and a Senior NBA Writer based in Cleveland in his third year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past five seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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