Find Your Center
Greg Oden’s recent visit to the Rose Garden was a reminder of the last tragic episode in the Trail Blazers search to find their center. This pursuit has defined the franchise ever since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976. From Bill Walton to Moses Malone, Sam Bowie, Arvydas Sabonis, Jermaine O’Neal, and Oden, a host of circumstances including injuries, unfortunate trades, and even Cold War Soviet Union have kept these talented players from sustained success in a Blazers uniform (Sabonis was drafted by the Blazers in 1986 but not allowed to play in the NBA until 1989 after his brutal Soviet playing schedule started to take their toll on his legs. Sabas bested David Robinson in the 1988 Olympics on a surgically repaired Achilles that had not been fully rehabilitated). There’s also a little something we picked up along the way called “The Jordan Curse”. Meyers Leonard has shown potential and made progress this season, but he still appears years away from possibly becoming a reliable starting center. Blazers management made the bold move of going after Roy Hibbert before the season in free agency, but the contract offer was matched by the Pacers.
Hickson was always playing out of position and it is looking more and more like he will find work elsewhere in free agency (we are grateful for his contributions this season, and he is grateful for the opportunity to showcase his skills and eventually receive a long term deal). That means we will be seeing a new center next year. Where do the Blazers go from here? Should they continue to develop Leonard, wait until the free agent class of 2014, and risk Aldridge leaving in free agency if the team does not improve? Go after the talented diva Dwight Howard? Give a contract offer to Al Jefferson? Or do we read between the lines and suspect that Oden’s visit was the prelude to a Blazers reunion?
Getting Howard, winning championships, and driving a dagger into the heart of Lakers Nation would become a great chapter in franchise history. We all know Allen could afford it if he so desires. It could be possible that the fun loving Howard would mesh well with the laid back versatile Aldridge resulting in one of the most dynamic front court duos since Walton-Lucas, Robinson-Duncan, or Sampson-Olojowan (before Sampson was derailed by injuries). Howard’s supporting cast in Orlando included a host of three point snipers much like Matthews, Batume, and Lillard, only Damian is more athletic and better at getting into the paint and finishing than Jameer Nelson or Rafer Alston. Howard says he wants to have fun playing basketball, and the Blazers free flowing up tempo offense might attract him as well. However, Howard craves the media spotlight, thus his desire to go to Brooklyn or L.A. The Blazers attempted to trade for Howard last year but it never went through. In the end the price tag and the possibility of a Dwightmare sized emotional meltdown rivaling only Mariah Carey is not worth the risk.
Al Jefferson will be a free agent this offseason and the Jazz will likely go with their younger cheaper players Kanter and Cousins to fill the void. Jefferson has more size than Hickson, toughness inside, and a nice low post game that could complement Aldridge’s all round package. But then again, like Hickson, Jefferson is not exactly a true center, and he probably would not be the answer to shore up the Blazers’ defense in the paint. On top of that, Jefferson made $15 million this season. A high cost for someone playing out of position.
Finally, how about Oden? This will likely never happen. It was heartbreaking for Blazermaniacs to see him go down again and again to injuries. Most of all it was probably torture for Oden to go through. Someone will likely give Oden a shot but it is likely too big a risk for the Blazers to take at this point. On the other hand, it would probably be one of the greatest redemption stories in NBA history to have one of the biggest draft busts of all time come back and break the Jordan Curse by helping the Blazers win a title. The fact that I entertain this possibility proves I am a certifiable Blazermaniac, it’s not going to happen.
So, I’ve shot down all my own suggestions. Is there no hope for the Blazers in free agency? Do we have to pray for another Oden-sized miracle in the lottery? Not so fast, the Cold War is over and there is a promising Russian center out there who made it past the trade deadline without anyone making a deal for him. Timofey Mozgov, a 7’1” 250 pound mobile center who can take up space, defend, and fortunately for teams looking for a big man, has been stuck on the Nuggets bench behind Kosta Koufos and JaVale McGee. Timo is starving for playing time. Check out this quote taken just after the trade deadline passed:
“I would go to Miami or Minneapolis gladly. On one condition only – that they would let me play. That the Heat are the main title contender this season didn’t matter to me at all. I am not going to sit on the bench even for a champion’s ring. To me, playing time is more important right now than any team results.”
Mozgov is 26, as a big man he should be coming into his prime. If he becomes a legit center, along with Meyers developing as backup, the Blazers could be set at the position for the forseeable future. He only made $3.1 million this season, which means he could be an affordable option as long as other teams don’t start a bidding war. Here are some highlights (the most impressive ones are the blocked shots):
Mozgov or not, this offseason and the next there will be lots of players available. Maybe the Blazers can find their center.