Best Potential Free-Agent Centers for Los Angeles Lakers to Replace Jordan Hill

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistJune 30, 2015

Best Potential Free-Agent Centers for Los Angeles Lakers to Replace Jordan Hill

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    He came. He saw. But he didn't quite conquer.

    In fairness, Jordan Hill made a strong impact with the Los Angeles Lakers, particularly during his last two seasons with the club. The 27-year-old is coming off a campaign in which he averaged 12 points, 7.9 rebounds and 0.7 blocks in 26.8 minutes per contest. Though he failed to offer elite rim protection, Hill did enough to earn himself another contract next season.

    It probably won't be with the Lakers, though. Per RealGM's Shams Charania, "The Los Angeles Lakers have informed Jordan Hill they will not pick up his $9 million team option, league source tells RealGM."

    The Sporting News' Sean Deveney noted that "Hill will command interest among teams looking for a big man, but he was not worth the massive contract the Lakers gave him largely as a trade-enabler last season."

    In theory, Hill could return to the organization at a lower rate, but L.A. almost certainly has bigger plans. The Lakers have been linked to Sacramento Kings star center DeMarcus Cousins, per the Los Angeles Daily News (h/t SI.com), but the two sides haven't agreed on a deal just yet. Unless something comes to fruition in fairly short order, L.A. may be forced to address its needs at the 5 via free agency.

    Fortunately, it should have some options. The crop of free-agent big men is better than it's been in some time, and the Lakers have money to spend—certainly enough to land a premier player given the few contracts presently on the books.

    Here's a look at the organization's free-agent options at center. The potential targets are ranked by virtue of both fit and the actual likelihood that they land with the Lakers.

5. Marc Gasol

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    Many a Lakers fan would prefer to see Memphis Grizzlies big man Marc Gasol much higher on this list and for good reason. The 30-year-old averaged a career-best 17.4 points per contest last season, and he's arguably cemented himself as the most well-rounded center in the game. His status as a fundamentally gifted two-way presence could do wonders for L.A.

    Unfortunately, Gasol appears to be a long shot. The Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan recently reported that "Gasol has no interest in the Lakers because of the uneasy last few years his brother spent with them, according to numerous people familiar with the situation."

    Note that unlike some rumors, this one is attributed to "numerous people," a likely sign that it's pretty good information. And anyone who observed brother Pau Gasol's departure from L.A. probably isn't surprised by the news.

    It also doesn't help that Marc has deep ties to the Memphis area, where he attended high school and saw Pau make his ascent. The Grizzlies are consistently high-performers, and any suitor—the Lakers or otherwise—will have difficulty prying Gasol away.

    So it comes as no surprise that Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported this month that "Gasol is expected to stay with the Grizzlies, but no final decision has been made, league sources told Yahoo Sports."

    Things can certainly change in this business, but the Lakers would need to get lucky here. This target probably isn't going anywhere.

4. Brook Lopez

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    Back in January, Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Lakers were interested in acquiring Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez via trade. While the organization was, per Wojnarowski, "likely short [on] assets" at the time, there's no such hindrance to a pursuit during free agency this summer.

    The only snag may be the Nets themselves. Word is they have the early edge in retaining Lopez's services.

    ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Mike Mazzeo recently reported that "rival teams interested in Brooklyn Nets free agents Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young are increasingly convinced that they have no shot at luring either one away from the incumbent Nets, according to league sources."

    The report added that "sources told ESPN.com that both Lopez and Young are widely expected to reach verbal agreements on new deals with the Nets early in free agency, which officially begins Wednesday at midnight."

    Lopez might be ranked higher on this list were the odds different. At this point, however, one has to assume the Lakers at best have an outside shot at him. 

    Things could certainly change if the Lakers were to get involved and show early interest. The Nets can offer Lopez a larger contract, but the prospect of anchoring L.A.'s rapid rebuild has to be somewhat intriguing. The franchise has a long history of dominant big men, and few in today's game can score in the post like Lopez. 

    The 27-year-old does have an unfavorable injury history, and that may deter teams like the Lakers from getting too enthralled. The seven-year veteran only played 17 games in 2013-14, and he's had repeated foot problems. If the Lakers are willing to accept that risk, something could theoretically happen between the two sides.

3. Tyson Chandler

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    Tyson Chandler is almost certainly a step back from the likes of Gasol and Lopez, but he'd also be easier to acquire. The Lakers haven't been linked to L.A. in any reports, but that could in part be because he's a lower priority than other free-agent targets. With names like Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge floating around, the Lakers' front office is probably a bit distracted at the moment.

    A lack of news on the Chandler front doesn't preclude him from being a viable candidate. In fact, he'd likely be one of the organization's more affordable options among free-agent, starting-caliber centers. He'd also help address one of L.A.'s most pressing needs. The Lakers ranked 29th league-wide in defensive efficiency last season, yielding 108 points per 100 possessions, according to Hollinger Team Stats.

    Chandler averaged 10.3 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 30.5 minutes per game for the Dallas Mavericks last season. He's a mobile defender with lots of length (7'3" wingspan), and he's adept at getting in the way of would-be penetrators.

    Should the Lakers land a star like Love (who'd ostensibly play power forward), Chandler's price tag would suddenly look all the more attractive. The 14-year-veteran is likely due a significant pay decrease from the $14,846,887 he made a season ago. The Lakers could conceivably offer Chandler a short-term deal, perhaps something like two years and a total of $16 million.

    That would allow the organization to pursue another prize this summer and give it plenty of room as the salary cap explodes in 2016 and 2017.

    Chandler isn't the sexiest name on this list, but he's a reliable and proven commodity. The Lakers could do far worse at that 5 spot.

2. LaMarcus Aldridge

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    If there's one big man who could become the offensive face of the Lakers for years to come, it's the Portland Trail Blazers' LaMarcus Aldridge. The almost-30-year-old averaged a career-high 23.4 points per contest last season, but Portland was beset by injuries and again came up short in the postseason. Multiple reports have indicated that Aldridge is now as good as gone.

    In addition to a reportedly planned meeting with the New York Knicks, ESPN.com's Chris Broussard recently noted that "Aldridge, who sources say is all but certain to leave Portland, will also meet with the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers."

    Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears recently described the Spurs and Lakers as "the front-runners" to land Aldridge, per a source. If it is indeed a two-team race, that's a start for the Lakers. 

    As the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan put it over the weekend, "[The Lakers] want to talk to LaMarcus Aldridge, he wants to listen, and if all goes well for both sides, the four-time All-Star signs a four-year, $80-million deal to be the Lakers' power forward."

    While Aldridge has recently manned the 4 spot alongside Robin Lopez in Portland, he has the size at 6'11" to man the center position as well. That would likely be the case in L.A. unless it moves now-healthy power forward Julius Randle via trade.

    Aldridge is an absolute beast from the mid-range, a dangerous pick-and-pop option who can also mix it up in the paint with his back to the basket. He would be a cornerstone going forward, the kind of scoring option who could shoulder some of Kobe Bryant's burden and bridge the gap to the franchise's post-Mamba era. L.A.'s reasons for interest are obvious enough.

    General manager Mitch Kupchak's next step will be convincing Aldridge that these Lakers can catch up to teams like the Spurs and Mavericks overnight, a pitch that actually holds some weight in light of the club's newfound health and the selection of D'Angelo Russell with the No. 2 overall draft pick.

    Aldridge would make that turnaround all the quicker.

    He's not a perfect fit, to be sure. He wouldn't significantly improve L.A.'s defensive backbone, and he could be slightly redundant with Randle, who also does a lot of his work from the high post. It's also possible that Aldridge would shun the notion of playing center on a regular basis. As the Portland Tribune's Kerry Eggers recently noted, "Aldridge has made it clear in the past he doesn't like to play center."

    It might not be a deal breaker, but it could be reason enough to prefer at least one free-agent target over Aldridge.

1. DeAndre Jordan

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    USA Today's Sam Amick and ESPN.com's Chris Broussard have both recently reported that Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan will meet with the Lakers, along with several other teams, including the Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks and incumbent Clippers.

    Good as those Clippers have been, Jordan has been looking forward to the free-agency process. Here's how he described it to Amick in March. 

    I mean I've obviously been (in Los Angeles) seven years, and the past two have been great. Doc (Clippers coach Doc Rivers) has been my biggest supporter and the best coach I've ever had. The team is great. The guys are good. We have great camaraderie. But the free agency process is definitely going to be a fun one.

    I want to experience it, to see what it's like, because before (in 2011) I was (a) restricted (free agent) so I just kind of had to wait it out. But I definitely want to experience it. I'm happy being a Clipper, I love it here. I've been here seven years, so this is definitely what I'm used to.

    So it appears the 26-year-old will have an open mind about a potential departure. Whether that means the Lakers are a legitimate possibility remains to be seen.

    As the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan recently noted, "It would take some persuasion to get Clippers center DeAndre Jordan to take less money and leave L.A.'s more talented team. The Lakers love his rebounding and shot-blocking, like many teams, and Dallas will also recruit him heavily."

    Remember, L.A. desperately needs help defensively, and Jordan would certainly make an impact with his ability to control airspace around the basket. He's the kind of presence who can make up for mistakes on the perimeter, and that would be transformational for a team like the Lakers.

    Sure, it might take one heck of a sales pitch from the Lakers, but the franchise promises to be healthier and younger than it was a season ago. Perhaps DJ will relish the notion of catching lobs from No. 2 overall draft pick D'Angelo Russell. Maybe he fancies himself as the next in a long line of great Lakers centers—freed to become more of an offensive focal point and carry on an impressive franchise legacy.

    There are good reasons to give the Lakers a second look. Only time will tell if they're better than the reasons to remain with L.A.'s other team.