What a difference an early termination option makes. If Dwight Howard hadn't decided to waive his ETO to remain under contract with the Magic for one more season, we'd be looking forward to a free agent class headlined by the NBA's best center and a perennial MVP candidate. With Howard locked in for 2012/13, this year's group of big men loses a good deal of lustre, overshadowed by a 2013 class that could include both Howard and Andrew Bynum. Still, for teams in immediate need of a frontcourt presence, there are a number of solid options poised to hit free agency in July….
Unrestricted Free Agents
Chris Kaman was a topic of much discussion at this year's trade deadline, but ending up staying put in New Orleans, something I doubt happens again this summer. Kaman appears to be the prize of the unrestricted free agents, and should receive offers from both over-the-cap contenders and teams with cap space. It'll be interesting to see if Kaman joins a title contender or accepts the largest offer from a team desperate for size. Spencer Hawes is the other intriguing name here. Having accepted a qualifying offer from the Sixers before this season, he'll hit unrestricted free agency at age 24. An injury-plagued season hurts his stock a little, but if he can finish strong, he should still earn a big payday. The rest of this group consists of mostly young projects like Hasheem Thabeet and Ian Mahinmi or veteran contributors like Marcus Camby, Joel Przybilla, and Jermaine O'Neal.
Restricted Free Agents
Teams eyeing this year's free agent centers may end up zeroing in on the restricted free agents, a group that includes plenty of players with a combination of youth and upside. The Nets should make a strong effort to retain Brook Lopez, though perhaps another team confident in Lopez's health will make things difficult. Roy Hibbert and JaVale McGee should also draw plenty of interest, though I don't think McGee will find the sort of deal he's reportedly seeking ($14MM annually). Omer Asik is a player to watch too. I expect the Bulls will want to keep Asik, but they already have $64MM+ in guaranteed money committed next season, and 2013/14's increased luxury tax penalties are looming.
Players With Options
Don't expect to find any deals here. Among the centers with options, Andrew Bynum's team option is a lock to exercised by the Lakers and DeSagana Diop's player option will certainly be picked up by Diop. Solomon Alabi is the only other center with an option, and even if the Raptors don't bring him back, he's probably too raw to have much appeal on the open market.