Starting center. Let’s say for a second that Valanciunas takes only two years of NBA experience to develop into a starting caliber player, it’s an optimistic estimate because according to Colangelo foreign big men take five years to find their game. I’ll assume Valanciunas is somehow fast-tracked and is ready sooner. Now, let’s for a second assume that Bargnani is not traded and is given his wish to play the power forward, which would leave the Raptors looking for a starting center. They could move Solomon Alabi into that spot next season, however we all know that’s being generous to him despite David Thorpe’s praise. The other option is to shift the 6’9″ Amir Johnson to center. If he could play the position that would mean Davis and Bargnani could play a majority of their minutes at the four, with Bargnani combining with Alabi in helping out Johnson at the center part-time.
The above is the ideal scenario if the playing times of all involved need to be maintained or increased. The problem is that Amir Johnson has not played nearly enough center for this to be a viable solution (2009-10 and 2010-11 positional numbers). Maybe this isn’t even a problem because the goal isn’t to win games right now but to develop, and maybe developing Amir Johnson into a center is on Casey’s agenda. I don’t know, this is pure speculation but the idea of Johnson being a Wes Unseld type center doesn’t sound right. If the Raptors choose to properly address this little problem, they’ll have to bring someone in.
We created an exhaustive list of available centers a little while ago and scanning that list, if I had to pick one guy not named Chandler, it would be Gasol. Since we now have Valanciunas, that doesn’t make sense anymore (right?). If we’re looking for a stop-gap defensive measure until Valanciunas gets here, how about Greg Oden or Kwame Brown? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m very well aware Brown sucks and Oden is as fragile as an egg. Brown will never be an offensive player, but he knows how to play defense because every coach he’s had ends up realizing that’s all he can do and focuses his attention to that side of the ball. Oden is young and suffers from foulitis and a host of other actual physical problems, but is a good rebounder and a low-block defensive presence.
Kwame Brown is 29 and is entering the twilight of an underwhelming career, and I can see Colangelo passing on him without blinking. But what about the 23-year old Oden? He’s got an $8.8 million qualifying offer which is likely to be tendered. Portland’s not red-hot on him because they passed up the first chance to do so when the season ended and could re-sign him to a one-year deal. If the Raptors stepped forward with a two or three year deal (maybe front-loaded), it could sway potential suitors away. The length of Oden’s contract would align with the timeline of Valanciunas becoming a legitimate NBA center. If Oden works out by then, the Raptors have a massive defensive frontline which Dwane Casey can ogle over. If he doesn’t, oh well, we got Valanciunas.
I mean, is Greg Oden a lock to be a Hall of Famer? It’s debatable. Top 50 all-time? Maaaaybe. Worst player in the NBA? Hmmm. Unable to chew gum and walk without getting injured? Jury’s out on that. Is he a big, young, defensive player with “upside”? Definitely yes.
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