Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
But it must be especially unsettling for interior big men, since the league has been devaluing the center spot for years. If players can’t space the floor on offense and defend in space away from the basket, they can have a hard time getting major minutes in the modern game.
So, let’s break out our crystal ball and predict what lies ahead for three of this offseason’s best free-agent bigs.
Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers
Statistically speaking, Harrell is hitting free agency at the right time.
The 26-year-old is posting a number of career highs during his fifth season, including 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. An instant-impact reserve, he’s just the fifth player ever to average 18 points and seven rebounds in under 28 minutes a night.
Once a glorified hustler, he’s now a polished, punishing offensive threat. He’s an expert pick-and-roll screener, and he’s just as capable of finding his own shots. He has handles, a soft floater and enough smarts to know when to attack and when to move the ball.
But are his numbers inflated by his reserve role? Would his limitations as a defender—undersized, not a great rebounder or shot-blocker—ever allow him to handle a starting spot?
Those are the questions all potential suitors will wrestle with, including the Clippers. L.A. might even decide it can’t justify his cost, when players like Marcus Morris Sr. and Reggie Jackson need new deals.
If the Clippers won’t pony up, a team such as the Charlotte Hornets makes a ton of sense. They need a center, a scorer and a draw at the gate. Harrell, a North Carolina native, checks all three boxes.
Prediction: Harrell signs with Hornets.
Marc Gasol, Toronto Raptors
The Raptors didn’t clinch their 2019 championship with the deadline acquisition of Gasol, but it definitely improved their odds.
The 6’11” center proved the perfect anchor for Nick Nurse’s defense, and his passing and vision helped upped the club’s collective basketball IQ to an almost unfair degree.
Gasol hasn’t been quite as sharp during his second season north of the border, but the Raptors remain significantly better with him (plus-10.4 points per 100 possessions) than without (plus-4.1). His ability to help raise the team’s floor could be what keeps him around during an active offseason in Toronto.
The 35-year-old is one of two Raptors starters, along with Fred VanVleet, to be entering unrestricted free agency. So, too, is Gasol’s more productive backup, Serge Ibaka, and Swiss Army knife stopper Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Toronto can only afford so much of this group, and it needs to keep the books as clean as possible to make a run at Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2021.
VanVleet could go either way, and it seems like the Raptors will be choosing between their bigs. With Ibaka’s age and numbers likely to net him a richer, longer deal, Gasol could be the more feasible option for the Raptors to retain.
Prediction: Gasol re-signs with Raptors.
Andre Drummond, Cleveland Cavaliers
You might think teams would be tripping over themselves for a shot at Drummond. He’s a 26-year-old, two-time All-Star and four-time rebounding champ who is posting multiple personal bests, including 17.7 points and 1.9 steals.
In a different decade, suitors would already be lining up for the chance to make their pitch to the Big Penguin. Now, though, his limited offensive range is a glaring weakness, and it’s hard to ignore the fact that he’s never been the rim protector his physical tools say he should be.
A market probably exists for Drummond, but it won’t be great. Rebuilders might not see enough upside to warrant a big investment. Contenders might question how much he actually contributes to winning, since he’s basically a break-even player for his career (his clubs are just 0.3 points better per 100 possessions with him than without).
Whatever his market value is, it won’t approach the $28.8 million player option he holds with the Cavaliers. That option was burdensome enough for the Detroit Pistons to salary-dump Drummond—again, an in-prime two-time All-Star—onto the Cavaliers, who cast the winning bid with only two expiring contracts and a future second-rounder.
Drummond is going nowhere.
Prediction: Drummond picks up player option to stay with Cavs.