There are two centers that I want to see in a Trail Blazers’ uniform next season: Andre Drummond or Roy Hibbert.
With the 2012 NBA Draft coming up on June 28 and free agency opens on July 1, the Portland Trail Blazers desperately have to add a big man to their roster if they want to get back into playoff contention next year.
Finding a future center, who can dominate on either end of the floor, has been a sore subject for the organization for a long time.
Portland went all in during the 2007 draft, selecting Greg Oden, the seven-foot center out of Ohio State, with the No. 1 pick. He was projected to be the next great big. He was going to beef up Portland’s frontcourt with LaMarcus Aldridge. And he was going to be the anchor in the middle to change the franchise. But after three micro-fracture surgeries on his knees, his play was limited to only 82 games over five seasons and Oden’s big plans never came to fruition.
But the problem is–there was never a plan B.
The Trail Blazers relied on services from Marcus Camby, Joel Przybilla, Kurt Thomas and Hasheem Thabeet. But after finishing the season ranked 25th in the league in rebounding, their deteriorating abilities were nothing more than a temporary bandage placed over Portland’s biggest sore–the center position.
If the Trail Blazers really want to compete in the West against teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies and the San Antonio Spurs, they’re going to have to get more size to battle in the paint.
Hibbert, Indiana’s 7-foot-2, 260-pound stud, is in his third year in the league and is averaging a career-best 12.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and two blocks per game. His progression this season earned him his first All-Star appearance.
The 25-year-old center has the size and athleticism to make an impact on both the offensive and defensive ends. Pair him with the 21.7-point, eight-rebound production of Aldridge, and we’re talking about one of the best frontcourt duos in the Western Conference next to the Lakers’ Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.
With Hibbert being a restricted free agent heading into July, teams can try to pry the young center away with a qualifying offer of $3.7 million. But at that price, the Pacers will likely match any offer to retain his services. The Trail Blazers will have to dig deep in their pockets to get a quality center like Hibbert, who could get offered a max contract. So the question is: How much will Portland have to spend to get the big guy?
With a possible $24 million in cap space, if you have the money to spend, I say use it. True bigs are hard to come by in the league. He’s young, he rose to All-Star success in the same year as Aldridge and he will make opposing teams think twice about doubling down on Portland’s star power forward night in and night out.
If the Trail Blazers don’t pursue Hibbert, their next best option is trying to snag University of Connecticut’s Andre Drummond in the draft.
I know many people are reluctant to select a center high in the draft knowing Portland’s misfortunes. But with two potential top 12 picks, it’s a risk the Trail Blazers must accept and it’s a move they shouldn’t be afraid to make.
On Chad Ford’s Big Board on Espn.com, Drummond and Tyler Zeller are the only two centers listed in his top 10 draftees. While I like Zeller’s fundamental skills and his four-year commitment to stay at North Carolina and gain experience, he lacks the strength and explosiveness that the 6-foot-11, 275-pound Drummond brings to the game.
Physically speaking, he’s NBA ready. The 18-year old averaged 10 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game in only one year with the Huskies. But my biggest question with Drummond is his maturity and dedication? He didn’t gain the same amount of experience as Zeller and I wonder about his ability to handle adversities on and off the court. It will be up to Portland’s training staff to mold him into a future star.
But most importantly, Drummond would be a cheaper route for the Trail Blazers, costing around $2-$4 million on a rookie salary depending on where he lands in the draft. But with Aldridge entering his prime years, is it a smart move to rely on a young, hopeful center, again?