Free Agency: Predicting where the best big men will end up

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Free agency is one of the most exciting and uncertain times in the NBA calendar- remember the DeAndre Jordan saga from last year? Mark Cuban certainly does.

Championship contenders can be made or broken in a matter of days as the players hold all the cards when it comes to negotiations.

This year’s class is rather deep with bigs and, although Durant may be the most interesting piece, there are plenty of big names at the four and five. Where will these big men be playing next year?

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Hassan Whiteside

Since exploding onto the NBA stage with the Miami Heat, Whiteside has quickly become an elite centre. He played just 19 times before the Heat took him in for the 2014-15 campaign. Then, he blew up for 11.8 points, 10 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game before improving those numbers to 14.2, 11.8 and 3.7 respectively.

Whiteside is an elite interior defender and has the strength, height and athleticism to be a beast on the boards. On the offence, Whiteside boasts solid offensive rebounding as well as unstoppable dunking and a solid and still improving mid-range jump shot.

He is a perfect fit for today’s NBA, where teams bring in smaller and smaller floor-stretching power forwards and will be highly coveted in free agency. Miami and the Lakers are expected to push for him, as well as others, like Dallas and Portland.

The Miami Heat would clearly love to retain him and are in the best position to do so. The L.A. Lakers feel like he could be a massive contributor alongside joining prospects like D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram. Hassan will undoubtedly feel some loyalty to the Heat, who gave him his first real chance, but the allure of the Lakers cannot be overlooked.

Prediction: Whiteside signs with either the Heat or Lakers.

Al Horford

On the other side of the spectrum is an undersized center, my personal favourite, Al Horford. He has been the Hawks main man for what seems like forever and his skills are both complete and in high demand.

He has the efficiency and team-first mentality to make him a hugely important member of any team. His stats for the season just gone are an impressive 15.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.5 blocks. Al can score from close, mid-range and the three. He can pass. He can block. Horford can literally do everything but doesn’t lift bums off seats.

There are likely going to be many teams chasing Al, who could arguably be considered the most attractive name after KD this summer. Boston and Houston, among others, are readying serious pushes for Horford but Atlanta should remain the frontrunner. With Teague traded, the Hawks can undoubtedly retain Horford and everything we hear from him points towards staying.

“I know, and I believe in my heart, that this is a special place and I feel like the way the Hawks organisation is going, it’s going in the right direction,” Horford said to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “People should want to be a part of this.”

Prediction: Al “Boss” Horford re-ups with the Hawks.

Pau Gasol

What next for Pau? He signed with Chicago to chase a championship but that didn’t quite work out, and, with D-Rose gone and others going, few expect them to compete.

An immensely experienced power forward or pivot, Pau can score smoothly and consistently both in the post and from mid-range, but he has also retained his rebounding and blocking ability in his winter years. At 35-years-old, Gasol put up 16.5 points, 11 rebounds, 4.1 assists and two blocks per game, showing some kind of secret antidote for time’s decay.

Pau is still a very serviceable big man and would be a great addition to any contender. Marc Gasol suggested that the San Antonio Spurs would be a good landing place for him and few would argue with that. There is talk of Pau following Rose to the Big Apple, which also makes a lot of sense. Gasol has a great history with Knicks’ President, Phil Jackson, from their time with the Lakers and few know Jackson’s triangle offence better than Pau.

“Phil (Jackson) and Pau are very close... So he's among a group of bigs that they'd like to pursue,” ESPN’s Ian Begley says, via Courtney Schellin of ESPN also.

With the uncertainty over Tim Duncan’s retirement, the Knicks might just have the edge.

Prediction: Pau joins Rose in New York.

Dwight Howard

The marmite of the NBA, D12’s attitude has found him at odds with stars like Kobe and Harden as well as large portions of the fanbase. Although his peak may be a thing of the past, Howard is still an athletic and strong big man and remains an imposing defensive presence and capable glass-eater.

Howard only averaged 13.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks this year but there is a general feeling that, in a better situation, D12 could head back towards his lofty heights.

With so many rumours about Howard, it is almost impossible to predict the future. Dallas are chasing D12, having failed with DeAndre Jordan,to put together one last roster around Nowitzki. The Bucks tried to trade for him at the deadline and will renew their interest now, ready to trade a disappointing Greg Monroe.

A return to the Magic could be on the cards but that would cause complications with current Orlando centre, Nikola Vucevic. He could join the pick-and-roll-friendly Trail Blazers to improve their defence and has also been linked with the Celtics and Hawks. It’s impossible to pick one team here.

Prediction: Howard signs with Dallas (I’ve got a hunch), or the Bucks (less likely).

Al Jefferson

Much like fellow Al, Horford, Jefferson goes about his business in an understated manner, but he is past his peak and so might not be so widely courted.

Al is a silky smooth scorer in the post and always has been. Even coming off the bench, Jefferson averaged 12 points and 6.4 rebounds this season. His defence has never been a particular strength but the 31-year-old still has plenty to contribute.

There have been rumours linking Jefferson with the empty five spot in New York or with the Pacers, but, despite never having spent more than three seasons with one team, he seems certain to stay in Charlotte.

"There’s nowhere that I’d rather be. I’d like to end my career here,” Jefferson said to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. “…at this point, going into my 13th year and I’m 31 years old, this is the best situation.”

The Hornets blossomed last year and Jefferson wants to remain a part of the project.

"…I could see what Kemba (Walker) and Mike (Kidd-Gilchrist) and coach Clifford were going to do," Jefferson said, via Bonnell. "I was happy to be a part of that and I’d like to stay a part."

Guarantee: Al Jefferson signs with the Hornets.

Bismack Biyombo

A stellar postseason with Toronto has Biyombo firmly on the radar of every team needing a center. He can bang with the bigs and is a monster rebounder, while also being able to score up close. 

His regular season was nothing special but his 9.4 rebounds per game in the playoffs will have increased the interest in him massively.

For teams who miss out on the bigger name centers, or who do not have the money to offer them max deals, Biyombo is a solid option. He will undoubtedly garner a lot of interest in his services, especially with Toronto having to make DeMar DeRozan a priority. 

However, DeRozan is believed to be willing to take a small pay cut to allow the re-signing of Biyombo and the pivot is willing to wait for DeRozan’s deal to be sorted before his own. It seems that Bismack is leaning towards remaining with the Raptors but that could depend on how smoothly negotiations with DeRozan go.

Prediction: Biyombo re-signs with Toronto.

Joakim Noah

Noah’s time with Chicago has come to a rather sad end and he will almost definitely be moving on in free agency, having been replaced by Robin Lopez. He did not play much last season, but Noah has a very different skillset for a big man.

He is a former Defensive Player of the Year and his passing is among the best of any big man. Over nine years with the Bulls, Noah averaged just short of 10 points and rebounds, while adding three assists and 1.4 blocks.

After a difficult year with injuries, teams might be questioning how much a 31-year-old Noah has left to offer. Despite that, the Wizards may or may not throw max money at him, while Rose’s trade to the Knicks has put them firmly in the picture.

Another option is another reunion, this time with Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota. Noah’s game meshes perfectly with Thibs’ style and that could be the perfect place for Joakim to try to recover. He might not start with Karl-Anthony Towns in the picture, but the fit is good regardless.

Prediction: Joakim Noah signs with the Knicks (if they miss out on Pau) or with the Timberwolves.

Charlotte Hornets
Southeast Division
Eastern Conference
Joakim Noah
Chicago Bulls
Central Division
Bismack Biyombo
Toronto Raptors
Atlantic Division
Dallas Mavericks
Southwest Division
Western Conference
Milwaukee Bucks
Pau Gasol
Al Horford
Atlanta Hawks
Minnesota Timberwolves
Northwest Division
L.A. Lakers
Pacific Division
New York Knicks
Miami Heat
Al Jefferson
Dwight Howard
Houston Rockets
Hassan Whiteside

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