San Antonio Spurs: 5 Center Options in NBA Free Agency 2017
By Rob Wolkenbrod
May 22, 2017; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich gives direction to his team against the Golden State Warriors during the first half in game four of the Western conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
The San Antonio Spurs will need to add a big man in free agency. Who are the top options?
The San Antonio Spurs are days away from beginning an offseason of trying to match the Golden State Warriors. It starts with the 2017 NBA Draft on Thursday, June 22. Then, in early July, NBA free agency will kick off and go throughout the summer. The latter may be the more important of the two for the Spurs.
One of the franchise’s needs is at center. Dewayne Dedmon already opted out of his contract and Pau Gasol hasn’t made his decision yet. So the Spurs could be down two big men for the 2017-18 season.
There will be options for San Antonio in free agency, with plenty of centers in play. Who are potential targets?
Mar 17, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns center Alex Len (21) runs up the court in the first half of the NBA game against the Orlando Magic at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
5. Alex Len
Despite being picked No. 5 overall in the 2013 NBA Draft, Alex Len has failed to find success as a starter. He’s received part-time play as a regular, but hasn’t crossed 24 minutes per game in four seasons.
However, at just 24-years-old, Len will enter the offseason as a restricted free agent. The Phoenix Suns will be able to match any offer he receives, but if they weren’t satisfied with his four-year production, then another team could swoop in. How about the Spurs?
Len would likely require a multi-year deal, but if the San Antonio front office sees potential in him as a starter, then something could be done. He has the big body at 7-foot-1, so the replacement for Dedmon would be right there.
The price tag on this Ukranian big man may be steep, though, given his youth. A team may jump in and give him a Timofey Mozgov-esque deal of four years, $64 million, which potentially takes the Spurs out of the running, especially if they want to use that cap space on Chris Paul. Plus, having the risk of the Suns matching whatever offer that comes Len’s way, is a downside. Focusing on him too much, only for Phoenix to equal a dollar and year amount, can take attention away from unrestricted free agents that have a better chance of signing.
Next: Tiago Splitter
Jun 12, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Tiago Splitter (22) high fives guard Manu Ginobili (20) during the third quarter of game four of the 2014 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
4. Tiago Splitter
Technically, Tiago Splitter spent eight years with the San Antonio Spurs organization, playing five with the team, from 2010-15. He was only a role player, but provided quality bench minutes and even started a fair amount of games in his final three seasons.
However, after the 2015 season, Splitter got dealt to the Atlanta Hawks. He played in just 36 games, due to injury, averaging around 5 points and three rebounds per game. The Philadelphia 76ers then acquired him in February 2017. The Brazilian played in just eight games, but shot six three-pointers and hit two of them; this hadn’t happened in his previous six years in the NBA.
Splitter is now a free agent, with his value lower than ever. If the Spurs need to work in a veteran minimum backup or someone who won’t cost more than $1 or 2 million per year on a prove-it deal, then this could be their guy.
A reunion could work in Splitter’s favor, as he can build some value on a single-season deal. Then, in 2018, he can look for a multi-year deal and try for something similar to the four-year, $32 million San Antonio gave him in 2013.
Apr 25, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; IHouston Rockets center Nene Hilario (42) smiles after scoring against the Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) n game five of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Nene is already 15 years into his NBA career. He was a capable starter for years, but turned into a backup these past two seasons — one with the Washington Wizards and the other with the Houston Rockets.
Nene had a decent season as a backup. He played in 17.9 minutes per game, averaging 9.1 points and 4.2 rebounds in 67 games. It mirrored what the Brazilian center did in 2015-16, so at age 34, this is about what teams should expect from him.
A veteran backup center would be different from the role Dedmon provided, but Nene could be valuable in this spot, as well as having a cheaper contract. He earned just under $3 million last season and may be in line for something similar, especially if he wants to join a contender.
The concern with Nene, is if he’s bound for a further decline in play. His numbers are fine for a backup, but if there’s anymore drop off, then he may fall into third-string status. The San Antonio Spurs would have to look elsewhere midseason for help, which isn’t an ideal scenario, especially if Nene shows off faded skills early.
Next: Ekpe Udoh
Jan 19, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) drives to the basket under pressure from Milwaukee Bucks forward Ekpe Udoh (5) during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
2. Ekpe Udoh
Once upon a time, Ekpe Udoh was a top six pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. He was lumped in a top 10 that had John Wall, Evan Turner, Derrick Favors, Wesley Johnson, DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe, Al-Farooq Aminu and Paul George picked. All nine of those players have had better careers than Udoh, who played two unproductive years with the Golden State Warriors, before bouncing to the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers.
Udoh hasn’t been seen in the NBA since 2015. However, he went overseas and had two efficient seasons with Fenerbahce of the Euroleague. The former Baylor Bear averaged 12.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. It may not translate into anything other than a backup in the NBA, but if he can be a rim protector and grab a few rebounds, then there will be a role for him somewhere.
What may help the San Antonio Spurs, is Udoh coming cheap. If he wants to go to the NBA, teams may still be wary of his previous stats, but like what he did in the Euroleague enough to give him a chance. That could result in a one or two-year deal, worth $3-5 million per season.
Will Udoh be willing to make the jump, though? He found success in Turkey and may choose to stick around, unless an NBA return is a priority.
Next: Willie Reed
January 6, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Miami Heat forward Willie Reed (35) controls the ball against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
1. Willie Reed
Willie Reed hasn’t played the same amount of seasons as Dewayne Dedmon, but is on a similar path. He didn’t look like anything more than a role player in his rookie season, but with the Miami Heat in Year 2, the Saint Louis product played consistently as a backup and showed promise, averaging about 5 points and 5 rebounds per game.
Reed had a few breakout games, including putting up 22 points and 12 rebounds against the Los Angeles Lakers. Another performance saw him grab 18 rebounds and score 22 points vs. the Phoenix Suns.
So, on June 1, Reed chose to gamble on himself and opt out of his contract with the Heat. He’ll now look to exceed the $1-plus million he received in 2016-17.
Reed could fit with the Spurs like Dedmon did last season. He can come in on a one-year, $3 million deal and be an energy backup to LaMarcus Aldridge or the potentially-returning Pau Gasol. Then, after playing with a contender, this 27-year-old can cash in, in 2018. Essentially, it’s replacing one player with another that has a similar skillset.
Next: Ranking Spurs' Potential Free Agents
The Spurs will have options at center in free agency. Who could don the black, silver and white for the 2017-18 season?