Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni has been trying to find the right big man to fit into his offensive scheme for months now. But all of his efforts to turn Pau Gasol into a stretch 4 have had a decided "square peg, round hole" feel to them, and Dwight Howard has only a couple of the skills the ideal D'Antoni big man needs.
And now, Ken Berger of CBSSports.com is reporting that Gasol may be out for as long as six weeks.
In a perfect world, the Lakers coach would travel back in time, snatch up the version Amar'e Stoudemire who existed around 2006 and slot him into L.A.'s center position. But even the Buss family, who have no problem blowing cash, won't spring for time travel.
But D'Antoni's stuck in 2013, and the Lakers are dealing with Gasol's serious injury and Howard's nagging one. So maybe it's time to look around the league for cheap options who would fit nicely into the coach's finicky system.
Based on the effectiveness of Stoudemire during D'Antoni's prime years in Phoenix, it's clear that the coach favors a player with power-forward size who can flash a few guard skills when needed. More importantly, the ideal D'Antoni big man has to be able to knock down a few elbow jumpers and get to the basket in either the pick-and-roll or with a quick, one-dribble move.
Most guys who fit those criteria are making at least $10 million per year, but there are a few inexpensive, long-shot options out there who might be able to help.
After repeated shoulder injuries derailed Brandan Wright's promising start with the Golden State Warriors, the lanky, 6'10" big man has settled into a nice little role with the Dallas Mavericks. In each of the last two seasons, he's posted a PER above 20.00, albeit in limited minutes.
Wright is ridiculously long and has a very effective offensive game inside the paint. He can hit high-arcing push shots from just about anywhere inside 15 feet, and he has surprisingly decent hands for a player of his size.
Best of all, he's not a post-up center. D'Antoni favors bigs who can score on the catch and use their mobility to get to the basket on cuts (or above it for lobs). Wright can do those things.
He's no defensive stopper and he really doesn't rebound his position at all, but he can certainly block a few shots. In that sense, he's an awful lot like Stoudemire was five or six years ago.
D'Antoni could do a lot worse than Wright, who could operate nicely from the elbows down and would cost the Lakers less than $500,000 for the rest of this season.
Like Wright, Darrell Arthur has spent a huge portion of his young NBA career recovering from injuries. A torn Achilles tendon cost him the 2011-12 season, and a leg fracture kept him out for the early portion of this one, so there are more than a few red flags on the health front.
But for the time being, Arthur looks healthy and the Memphis Grizzlies have increased his role since shipping Marreese Speights to the Cleveland Cavaliers. In a way, that's sort of a vote of confidence.
At the same time, though Ed Davis looks to be in Memphis' future plans as its backup big, so perhaps Arthur's excellent pick-and-pop game could be put to better use somewhere else.
Like Los Angeles.
Arthur's mobility is limited, but his offensive game would fit nicely into D'Antoni's system. He can space the floor nicely and in contrast to Gasol, actually prefers shooting jumpers.
Oh, and he's known for playing terrific defense in the pick-and-roll, too. The Lakers could sure use someone like that.
Andrew Nicholson is just 23 years old, and the Orlando Magic aren't in any position to be shipping out young players, but this guy is just too perfect to leave out of the discussion.
At 6'9", the rookie from St. Bonaventure is a fantastic mid-range shooter. According to HoopData, Nicholson knocks down 68 percent of his shots from 10-15 feet and a very respectable 44 percent from 16-23 feet.
For a center, that's excellent.
Despite those unique skills, the Magic are only giving Nicholson about 15 minutes per game. You can bet D'Antoni could find much more extensive playing time for a guy like him.
At close to $7 million per year, Brandon Bass is definitely the most costly option of the ones listed here. But he might also be the best.
The Boston Celtics forward rarely ventures into the paint, instead making his living as a spot-up shooter from the mid-range area. He's also a real threat in the pick-and-pop game, which he could run nicely with Steve Nash—if the Lakers ever let him handle the ball.
If D'Antoni wants to continue using Howard on the offensive end as a post-up option, Bass would be perfectly fine floating around the perimeter, waiting for a kickout pass. From 16-23 feet, Bass is knocking down shots at a 44-percent clip this year.
As a small-ball center, the eighth-year man could definitely give the Lakers the spacing D'Antoni wants.
You'll note the picture of Anthony Randolph features him in his warm-up gear. That's only fitting, as the enigmatic 23-year-old spends the vast majority of his time comfortably seated on the Denver Nuggets' bench.
But this guy's talent has intrigued more than a few teams (four in five years, to be exact), and the Lakers are in no position to turn down risky propositions.
From a strategic perspective, it's possible that Randolph is still something of an unformed lump of clay. Just watch his summer league performance from a few years ago, and it's obvious that he's got a center's size with more than a few guard skills.
Perhaps a position as a playmaking stretch 4 could utilize some of his obviously still untapped potential.
You wouldn't want him taking too many long-range shots—as his career 11 percent three-point stroke attests—but as a slashing big who could even facilitate the offense from the wing, Randolph could do some damage.
And hey, maybe the fifth team's the charm.