Over the last week, we've been taking a closer look at this summer's free agent market by position, starting with point guards, and progressing through shooting guards, small forwards, and power forwards. Our tour of the 2013/14 free agent class comes to an end today with a look at this year's centers, perhaps the most intriguing FA position this year.
2013's group of free agent centers features the player most likely to land the year's biggest contract (Dwight Howard), a player who may have the summer's most fascinating free agent case after missing a full season (Andrew Bynum), and an intriguing human-interest story that even non-NBA fans will be following (Jason Collins).
Let's dive in and break down this year's free agent centers….
Unrestricted free agents
Assuming Dwight Howard re-signs with the Lakers, the $117.95MM he'd receive this summer would be the largest contract signed this year or last. It's not a lock that Howard will return to L.A., but considering the Lakers can offer him $30MM+ more in guaranteed money than any other team, they have to be considered the favorites.
A year ago, we would have assumed Andrew Bynum would be heading for a maximum contract of his own, but a lost season in Philadelphia means Bynum's future is up in the air. I have to think there will be at least one team willing to roll the dice on a potential franchise player, offering him a big-money, multiyear deal. But there's so much uncertainty surrounded Bynum that you could conceivably picture him signing for anywhere between $8MM and $80MM. For teams not interested in gambling on Bynum, Al Jefferson represents a more stable (and more healthy) top-tier option, though you'll have to be willing to live with some shortcomings on the defensive end.
Beyond the big three in this group, there are still plenty of interesting options, including Chris Kaman, Samuel Dalembert, and Zaza Pachulia. Additionally, Chris Andersen, Nazr Mohammed, and Jermaine O'Neal all played on minimum-salary deals in 2012/13, but were productive enough that they could draw interest at a slightly higher price this summer.
We'll definitely be keeping a closer eye on Jason Collins than we typically would on a backup free agent center (say, Johan Petro), as he attempts to become the first active gay athlete in one of North America's major sports leagues. And if the coverage of Collins' free agency is disproportionate to his career production, the same could be said of Greg Oden, the former first overall pick, who will look to return to action for the first time since 2009/10. I'll be pulling for both guys to find NBA jobs this offseason.
Restricted free agents
Eight of this summer's potential restricted free agents, including Blake Griffin, James Harden, and Stephen Curry, signed long-term extensions last fall, so there aren't a ton of big names among this year's restricted FAs. Still, compared to the other positions, center is relatively stacked.
Nikola Pekovic figures to receive an annual salary of at least $10-12MM from the Timberwolves or another club. Tiago Splitter will be in line for a raise of his own after playing crucial minutes for the Spurs all year. And even Byron Mullens had his moments for the Bobcats this season, though he's not close to being in Pekovic's class, or even Splitter's.
Team and player options
Expensive player options like Andris Biedrins' ($9MM) and Emeka Okafor's ($14.49MM) are certain to be exercised, but it's not just those big-money options that figure to be picked up. I'd be surprised to see either Kwame Brown ($2.95MM) or Aaron Gray ($2.69MM) opt out of their deals, since they'd be hard-pressed to land new multiyear contracts or even to sign for more than the minimum.
Even once we get past the player options, there don't seem to be many candidates to hit the market among this group. Robin Lopez ($5.12MM) and Gustavo Ayon ($1.5MM) are on non-guaranteed deals, but their price tags are affordable enough that I'd be surprised to see the Pelicans or Bucks, respectively, cut them loose. Perhaps the most notable likely free agent in this group is Greg Stiemsma, who has a non-guaranteed $2.69MM and wasn't exactly indispensable in Minnesota in 2012/13.