Why NBA Teams Should No Longer Be Overpaying for Centers

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistAugust 27, 2012

MIAMI, FL - MAY 22:  Roy Hibbert #55 of the Indiana Pacers looks on during Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs against the Miami Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena on May 22, 2012 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Indiana Pacers matched the maximum-level contract the Portland Trail Blazers offered first-time All-Star Roy Hibbert this summer, ensuring the team will pay the center $58 million over the next four seasons.

But hey, at least he's an All-Star.

You can't say the same for Omer Asik. You can't even call Asik a starter, until he actually steps on the floor for the Houston Rockets. General manager Daryl Morey still saw fit to give the 26-year-old 7-footer a three-year deal worth $25.1 million.

Never mind that in his two seasons with the Chicago Bulls, Asik never averaged more than 14.7 minutes per contest. He's a solid, mobile defender, and his status as a restricted free agent meant a team like the Rockets inevitably needed to overpay to pry him away.

Hibbert and Asik are only the most recent examples of big men who got big deals they probably didn't deserve.

Of course, on the open market, a guy is technically worth whatever a team is willing to pay him.

The question is why these teams are willing to pay so much.

We're not talking about guys in the same league as Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning or Shaquille O'Neal. Nor are we talking about the same league in which those centers excelled.

Excepting Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum and the next tier of centers like Al Jefferson, Marcin Gortat, JaVale McGee and Hibbert, today's NBA isn't exactly stacked with 7-footers who can score, rebound and defend.

Last season's Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler ranks among the league's best centers, but even he isn't a threat to score outside of layup and dunk opportunities.

And an up-and-coming star like DeMarcus Cousins does so much of his damage from the high post that describing him as a center is a bit misleading.

Given the relative lack of talent at the position, it's hard to understand why some teams are so willing to spend premium money on less-than-premium players.

It goes without saying that some of the overpriced deals are simply mistakes. The six-year deal the Golden State Warriors handed Andris Biedrins in 2008 was just a bad gamble.

You could say the same about the six-year, $55 million contract the Dallas Mavericks gave Brendan Haywood in 2010.

But, these are the kinds of gambles that appear to be more commonplace when centers are in question. Organizations are more likely to gamble when a starting center is available, presumably reasoning that it won't be easy to find another one.

The 2012 NBA conference finals are a strong argument for taking a more cautious fiscal approach to acquiring centers.

Not one of the final four teams of this postseason had an All-Star-caliber center. In fact, two of those teams (the San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics) functionally had power forwards Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan manning the position alongside shorter forwards Brandon Bass and Boris Diaw.

The Oklahoma City Thunder relied upon defensive specialist Kendrick Perkins, and the Miami Heat had the weakest center rotation of all, depending on Ronny Turiaf, Joel Anthony and power forward Udonis Haslem.

At the end of the day, contenders are clearly better off with some kind of scoring presence in the post, and they certainly need a means of defending against other post scorers and guarding the paint against penetration.

The kind of personnel a roster has on hand can vary so long as those basic objectives are met one way or the other. The Heat may not have had a conventional answer for Roy Hibbert in the Eastern Conference semifinals, but they prevented him from becoming a decisive factor.

The Thunder did the same against Andrew Bynum in the Western Conference semifinals, proving that their disadvantage in the paint wasn't nearly significant enough to alter the course of the series.

Sure, Bynum and Howard may be worth all the hype, but that doesn't mean most of the centers attempting to follow in their footsteps are worth the contracts they're getting.

If the Heat can get by with bigs who have no business starting for an NBA champion, the Houston Rockets could probably get by without paying an arm and a leg for Omer Asik.