When Dwight Howard opted in to the last year of his contract with Orlando last week, the loudest cheer from anyone who’s not a Magic fan probably came from Spencer Hawes. With Howard off the free-agent market, Hawes is now likely the most attractive unrestricted free agent center available this summer.
The 23-year-old University of Washington product has struggled with a strained left Achilles’ tendon this season, which caused him to miss 27 of 28 games before his return last week. When healthy, though, Hawes has been putting up some of his best numbers, posting per-game career highs in rebounds (8.0), assists (2.7) and blocks (1.4) while averaging 10.1 points per game. A 46.6% shooter in his first four seasons, he is making 54% of his shots from the floor this year, and that’s contributed to a PER that’s up to 19.2 from 12.8 last year.
It’s the kind of leap the Kings had in mind when they took him 10th overall in the 2007 draft. When Hawes hadn't sufficiently developed after three years, Sacramento went with DeMarcus Cousins at center instead and traded Hawes to the Sixers. Coach Doug Collins made Hawes a full-time starter for the first time last year, and he signed a one-year $4.05MM qualifying offer from the team as a restricted free agent this past offseason.
He faces competition from restricted free agents Roy Hibbert, Brook Lopez and JaVale McGee, but teams going all in on Hawes know there isn’t a chance the Sixers will swoop in to match the offer after the deal is already signed, unlike with the restricted guys. Up-and-coming big men have a long history of getting big contracts and retreating into obscurity, like Jim McIlvaine, Jerome James and Eddy Curry. The Nuggets seemed to quickly get a case of buyer’s remorse on the five-year, $65MM deal they gave to Nene in December, shipping him to the Wizards last week.
Hawes probably isn’t in line for an offer like Nene’s, but he could use DeAndre Jordan’s four-year, $43.04MM contract as a model. Jordan averaged 7.1 PPG, 7.2 RPG and 1.8 blocks per game in his age-22 season for the Clippers last year before the Warriors signed him to an offer sheet, which the Clippers matched. Hawes has numbers that are similar, if not better, and he could command a deal that’s a little bit more lucrative than Jordan’s. The Sixers, who have $63.5MM committed for next season, would have trouble making that happen unless they moved some money or used their amnesty clause. Other teams in need of a center who don’t want to wait for Howard or don’t feel they could get him could go after Hawes, like the Mavs, Celtics or Raptors. One intriguing possibility is the Blazers, who just cleared a bunch of cap space at the trade deadline, with only $34.9MM now on the books for next year, and are the team closest to his native Seattle.