The free agent class of 2013 may not turn any heads or have fans on the edge of their seats, but there are a few players who the Blazers should be targeting this offseason that could improve the team.
First and foremost, the Blazers need a center. Meyers Leonard is not going to cut it as the starting center for at least two more seasons. JJ Hickson is great and all, but he is a below average defender and is very undersized. He does an admirable job against bigger post players, but Hickson would be just as effective, if not more, coming off the bench as a sixth man. He is also set to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, so it is highly likely that another team will pay him and the Blazers will have to let him walk anyway. There are several quality centers in the NBA who are set to become free agents this offseason, and the Blazers would be wise to pursue every option.
One candidate is Chris Kaman, although he is also a below average defender and often has problems staying healthy. Still, the addition of Kaman would be a welcome sight for most Blazer fans, as at the very least he is a big body who can clog the lane. He would also be the first Blazers’ center since Arvydas Sabonis to have some kind of offensive repertoire, and the Blazers would most likely be able to sign him at a respectable price, which is very hard to do with centers in the NBA today.
Emeka Okafor is another free agent option at center. I know he never exactly lived up to his hype, and he has been grossly overpaid for most of his career, but he has been playing great recently. In the month of January, Emeka averaged 11 points and 11 rebounds playing just under 28 minutes per game. Unfortunately, Emeka has to exercise his early termination option in order to become an unrestricted free agent, and seeing as how he is making more than $13 million with his current deal, I don’t see him exercising that option unless he feels that he could earn more with a multi-year deal. Only time will tell if Okafor will be a realistic option for the Blazers to pursue.
There are also a couple of restricted free agents that the Blazers should look into. Neil Olshey seems to be a proponent of pursuing restricted free agents. We tried it last offseason with Roy Hibbert, and now he has a max contract and is playing worse than he did the season before. Olshey could do the same thing with Nikola Pekovic in Minnesota. The Timberwolves aren’t going to want to part ways with Pekovic, but if Olshey offers him an inflated deal, there is a chance that Minnesota will be forced to let him go. They will likely match any offers for him, making it very unlikely that the Blazers will be able to sign him. I don’t think any Blazer fans would mind if we forced Minnesota to match an offer for Pekovic, as they did the same thing to the Blazers with Batum’s restricted free agency last offseason.
Tiago Splitter is another restricted free agent option. Splitter has been having a great season, especially in the month of January when he saw his minutes go up. In January, Splitter averaged 12 points and almost eight rebounds per game. He is also a quality low post defender and has a high basketball I.Q. He is inflating his free agent value with his consistent play at center for the Spurs, and it will likely pay off for him this offseason. Unfortunately the Spurs will likely be the ones paying him. They drafted him in 2007 and have spent several seasons developing Splitter and making him comfortable in San Antonio after his transition from Europe. They are not about to let him walk, especially when Tim Duncan is set to retire soon.
So when it is all said and done, the only truly realistic scenarios that I mentioned above would be the Blazers signing Chris Kaman or Emeka Okafor this offseason. Then again, maybe the Blazers would be better off just skipping this free agency class and saving up for a rainy day, which there are sure to be plenty of if the Blazers can’t find a starting center soon. Either way, Neil Olshey has some tough decisions to make in a few short months.
Joe Rampone is on Twitter. Follow him at @JoeRampone