clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Remaking the Spurs, Part 1: Center

Recently, we had a poll on the front page asking which position the Spurs should concentrate on upgrading in the offseason. The results were pretty clear: most fans think the Spurs are most lacking at the Center position. With that in mind, the first article in this series will concentrate on what kind of options the team might have to fill that hole at center this summer. Even more recent was a great post by Fred on how the Spurs lack size on the interior. With that fresh in our minds, let's dive right in and see what's out there.

Background Info

The Spurs have a few different paths they can take during the upcoming offseason, but we're concentrating on just one. That path is best described as "all in" trying to win a championship next year. If the Spurs choose a different path(cutting salary, demolition and rebuild), then all this will be moot.

Also, I place a premium on defense, so I will sing the praises of guys who can lock down the paint.

Salary Comparison

It's important to reveal sources here, and ShamSports is regularly updated with contract information, so that's where all of our dollar figures and contract info comes from. With that in mind, here's a chart showing all the current starting centers in the league, and what kind of money they make.

Huge props to LasEspuelas for putting this chart together.

Team Starting Center 2009-10 Salary
Hawks Al Horford $4,307,640
Celtics Kendrick Perkins $4,750,000
Bobcats Theo Ratliff (ouch) $825,497
Bulls Brad Miller $12,250,000
Cavaliers Shaquille O'Neal $21,000,000
Mavericks Brendan Haywood $6,000,000
Nuggets Nene $10,520,000
Pistons Ben Wallace $825,497
Warriors Rony Turiaf $4,140,000
Rockets Chuck Hayes $2,147,750
Pacers Roy Hibbert $1,575,360
Clippers Chris Kaman $10,400,000
Lakers Andrew Bynum $12,500,000
Grizzlies Marc Gasol $3,333,333
Heat Jermaine O'Neal $23,016,000
Bucks Andrew Bogut $10,000,000
Timberwolves Al Jefferson $12,000,000
Nets Brook Lopez $2,255,880
Hornets Emeka Okafor $10,797,500
Knicks David Lee $7,000,000
Thunder Nenad Krstic $5,160,832
Magic Dwight Howard $15,202,590
76ers Samuel Dalembert $12,025,694
Suns Robin Lopez $1,745,520
Trail Blazers Marcus Camby $9,150,000
Kings Spencer Hawes $2,332,800
Spurs Antonio McDyess $4,500,000
Raptors Andrea Bargnani $6,527,491
Jazz Mehmet Okur $9,000,000
Wizards JaVale McGee $1,496,640

Average $7,559,534

Maximum $23,016,000

Minimum $825,497

That average is no small figure. In fact, reliable big men are generally given more money than players who have a similar skill level, but that play at other positions. This means that, with the Spurs already over the cap for next season, the pickings are going to be slim. That fact is made worse by the fact that lots of teams have cleared cap space in anticipation of the 2010 free agency bonanza. So, let's see what's on the table.

Tiago Splitter

Mr. Splitter's situation needs to be addressed first, because he should be the first option on the table. Let's see... a legit 7-footer with good skills on both ends of the court. Does anyone here think that a player matching that description might be able to help the Spurs? That's what I thought.

Hey look! A guy who likes celebrating championships!

Earlier in the current ACB season, Tiago's numbers were down, and he appeared to be struggling. However, he has since come roaring back with better stats than ever, as you can see at his DraftExpress page.

If I'm RC Buford, Tiago is my primary target with the mid-level exception. Apparently, the Spurs are going to have competition from Real Madrid of the ACB league, so it's unclear whether the MLE will be enough, but I would think it's worth it to give Splitter the full MLE if neccessary. I'm hoping that the Spurs have been keeping in touch with Tiago and his agent about their plans for next season. Madrid holds an overall financial advantage, due to the fact that they aren't afraid to spend money(their owner has an almost Mark Cuban-like reputation for spending). Also, the Spurs' lackluster season(so far) might be an inhibiting factor to his move across the pond. He's said before that he wants to play on teams that compete for championships, and our Spurs don't look like one of those this season.

But the Spurs actually have a couple of advantages over Madrid in the Tiago sweepstakes, despite the fact that Madrid can offer him more money. For starters, this offseason is absolutely Tiago's best shot at fulfilling his NBA aspirations - the Spurs have the MLE, he has a lower buyout option in his contract, and at 25, he's still young enough for most NBA teams to be interested. The second advantage has to do with the way Tiago's current contract with Baskonia(Caja Laboral) is structered: The lower buyout only applies to NBA teams, so if Madrid is going to outbid us, they're also going to spend a lot more on his buyout, because Caja doesn't want to give him up to a European rival, especially one in their own league(ACB).

Here's my worst-case scenario: If Tiago wants more money than we can offer, we can flip his rights to a team with cap space for something useful. It's a win-win situation - Tiago makes it to the league and gets paid, while the Spurs still have their MLE to spend elsewhere. I hear Sam Presti's Thunder team has cap space and could use a big man... [Splitter's rights and a newly re-signed Bonner for a newly re-signed Thabo Sefolosha and one of OKC's two first-round picks, anyone? It's way better than the nothing we got for Scola.]

Free Agency & Trades



The Spurs are far more likely to find a good big man through free agency than by trading anyone they already have. On top of that, big trades can sometimes make matters worse than if you're simply adding a piece(see: Jefferson, Richard). But, here comes a list that includes both possibilities. Some of these are pretty unlikely, but stranger things have happened.

Marcus Camby - Portland's newly-acquired center will have a tough choice this offseason. With Oden and Przybilla likely to be back for the Blazers, he could probably get a lot more playing time if he goes elsewhere. While I've called him overrated in the past, Camby has improved his man defense significantly in the past two years, but it's gone virtually unnoticed since he played for the Clippers. He's always been a terrific help defender and shot-blocker, as well as still being one of the best rebounders in the league. He doesn't do much on offense, but he wouldn't need to in San Antonio. He might just be a prime target for the front office using the MLE. But, while we're talking about the Blazers...

Joel Przybilla - Przy has an early termination option, but if he chooses not to excercise it, he'll be due $7.4 million next year. He isn't likely to opt out, but we could still try trading for him if we offer the Blazers something they don't already have. Like, say, a big who can shoot the 3-ball incredibly well.

Brendan Haywood - If Splitter doesn't come over, or if we trade him away, Haywood becomes my primary target in free agency. However, the MLE is unlikely to be enough for one of the best centers in the West. I haven't seen any projections for what he's likely to make with his next contract, but I doubt he'll have to settle for MLE money.

Tyrus Thomas - Most of the chatter regarding the Spurs trade-deadline ambitions earlier this month had to do with Thomas, who is a very intriguing player. Mr. Thomas has a qualifying offer for next season of just over $6M. He'll probably take it, but trading for him wouldn't be out of the question. Who knows what MJ wants for the future of the Bobcats, now that he's in charge? RC should probably at least make the call.

Ian Mahinmi - Oh yes, I did. If Ian shows any improvement by the end of this season, it would behoove the Spurs to retain him. Because somewhere, while watching film of a 7-footer running the floor like a gazelle, Don Nelson is salivating.

Erick Dampier - Yeah, yeah... I know. Why would we ever do this? Because you can't teach size.

Luis Scola - Guess who's a [restricted] free agent? Luis has a qualifying offer of around $4M, but deserves more money than that. Too bad Houston is likely to match anything we're able to throw his way. Plus, trying to sign him would be like our FO admiting they were wrong - fat chance of that.

Etan Thomas - Not really an impressive player, so... only if he'll play for the BAE or less.

Kyrylo Fesenko - "I must break you".

Nazr "manos piedras" Mohammed - I still like Nazr, but I'm not sure he's good enough to be Timmeh's primary running mate.

Brad Miller - He'll be a free agent. Not sure if he has anything of value left in him, though.

Shaquille O'Neal - No thank you.

Kwame Brown - I know what you're thinking, but he's a really good defensive big.

Ronny Turiaf - Remember what I said up above about Nellie salivating over Mahinmi? Well, maybe we can convince him that Ian's a better fit in his system than Turiaf.

Troy Murphy - I'm sure the Pacers would love to rid themselves of his salary, but I'll pass on this no-defense shooter... we've had a much cheaper version of him for a few years now in Matt Bonner.

Jeff Foster - This is intriguing, because Foster is from San Antonio, and Pop has always said that he likes what Foster brings. He doesn't seem to belong with Indiana, so he could probably be pried away with relative ease.

Drew Gooden - Been there, done that, not eager to do it again.

Hasheem Thabeet - Did you just spit out your drink? You shouldn't have. The Grizzlies' high-powered offense is no place for a plodding, 7'3" shot-blocking and rebounding specialist with no other discernable skills, but the Spurs could find a place for a skill set like that. He's pretty overpaid, though.

Hamed Haddadi - Read about Thabeet above, and substitute 7'2" for the height, with a much bigger(read: wider) frame. He's a brontosaurus.

Jermaine O'Neal - He's a free agent, but I doubt he'll settle for the MLE. He does still have some good years left in him.

Udonis Haslem - Good option, might be within our price range. Don;t be surprised if the Spurs make a push for this guy.

Primoz Brezec - Euro legend. Not really, but you would have looked it up, wouldn't you?

Darko Milicic - Ummm, no comment.

Oleksiy Pecherov - Who?

Emeka Okafor - The NOOCH are going to want to continue cutting salary, and dumping Okafor is the best way for them to do it.

Francisco Elson - Kill me before bringing him back.

Amar'e Stoudemire - Please, for the love of FSM, no. The only reason this is here is because it's not outlandish to imagine Sarver agreeing to trade Stoudemire away if he takes his player option.

Mehmet Okur - Not sure whether Utah would be willing to give him up to us, but he's basically Pop's wet dream come true. A guy who's tall and can shoot the ball from anywhere, without giving up too much on defense. So, Bonner with better defense.

Fabricio Oberto - Just throwing it out there, but he'd be a great option to have as a 12th man. He's a free agent again this summer.

Timofey Mozgov - This 7'1" 23 year old Russian monster has been putting up great short-minute numbers with one of the premier clubs in the Euroleague, BC Khimki. But he's not the best Euro big man whose rights aren't owned by an NBA team. That honor belongs to...

Yiannis Bouroussis - According to DX, our favorite Greek tease has a comfortable buyout option from Olympiacos. But I vaguely remember him saying that he wanted to spend two more years in Greece last summer(adding that he would love to play for the Spurs when he does cross the pond), so unless he's changed his mind, don't expect to hear any rumblings from Greece this offseason.

One more thing: a Chris Bosh sign-and-trade is an outlandish idea that will never happen, so it's not even worth writing about. Plus he sucks at defense.

The Draft


Positively dreamy.

The chance of landing a good big man in this year's draft is better than you might expect. After last year's draft class was nearly bereft of talented big men(Blair and Griffin being the main exceptions), this year's class has a glut of tall guys with talent. Lots of defensive-minded talent, too. Let's dig in - I'm including guys listed as C's that DX has going after #10 in their mock draft - The Spurs may trade up if they think they can get a good big out of it, especially if Tiago turns them down.

Hassan Whiteside - This kid puts up some crazy numbers, but the ones that glare out at me are the 0.3 assists and 2.0 turnovers per game. Seems like he either doesn't look for his teammates, or sucks at getting them the ball in good situations. Either way, it's a major weakness IMO. Love the 5.5 blocks, though... that's an incredible feat.

Donatas Motiejunas - Seems a bit overrated to me, and most of his weaknesses are related to defense. But, who knows - he's playing in the Italian league.

Epke Udoh - This man belongs in a Spurs uniform. He does everything expected of a Spurs center, and has an incredible ability to lock down the paint even though he's only 6'10".

Solomon Alabi - OK, so I'm unfairly fond of Florida State players. Sue me. But the Spurs could do a lot worse than this. That FSU defense wasn't #1 in the ACC solely on the strength of their great wing defenders - the guy knows how to play good team D.

Miroslav Raduljica - Fierce offensive player in the Adriatic league. If anyone follows Euro ball, I'd love to know if he's any good at defense. He pulled out of the draft last season, but is automatically eligible due to age this season.

Jerome Jordan - Here's a darkhorse candidate, who right now isn't very high in mock drafts(most have him going in the early second round), but he does a lot of things well on defense, while not being a black hole on the other end. DX says that his best case is Theo Ratliff - let's hope that refers to the menace Theo was in his prime, not the shell we saw in silver and black earlier this season.

So that's all I've got. You'll probably want to take that migraine medicine now, and we didn't even mention D-Leaguers. Next time, we'll talk about forwards, and here's a spoiler: what might await in the draft at that position is intriguing.


Of course, everyone has an opinion, and there's a whole lot of names up there... so let us know what you think. Leave your comments about what you think the Spurs should do below.