NBA Free Agents 2011: Raptors Add Nene and Gasol to List of Desired Big Men

Brad LeClair@beerad87Correspondent IDecember 1, 2011

DENVER, CO - MARCH 21:  Nene #31 of the Denver Nuggets takes a shot against the defense of Andrea Bargnani #7 of the Toronto Raptors at the Pepsi Center on March 21, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

According to ESPN's Marc Stein and Chad Ford, the Toronto Raptors are not stopping their hunt for a center at Tyson Chandler. With talk surrounding Chandler the last few days, word is spreading that the Raptors intend to actively pursue a center.

Two other big men which the Raptors are potentially chasing are Marc Gasol and Nene Hilario:

One disclaimer: Sources say Toronto is trying to be as aggressive as it can be in the big-man market in free agency and has informed the players involved that it intends to lodge serious bids for Nene, Chandler and restricted free agent Marc Gasol. In the unlikely event that releasing a player through amnesty could clinch the signing of one of those players, rest assured that the Raptors will go for it.

Rest assured, Raptors fans: Bryan Colangelo and company want to improve the team, and it appears they want to do so quickly—disregarding their chances at a high draft pick in a deep draft. Their intent, it appears, is to move 7' center Andrea Bargnani to power forward and get him a big body to play alongside underneath the basket.

Colangelo's stance on the draft has always been: "Let the season play out—if there's a player we are targeting, we'll trade up and draft him if need be."

To add either of these players, the Raptors would likely use their amnesty clause on one of two players—Linus Kleiza or Jose Calderon.

Kleiza looks to be the likely candidate to be bought out if the Raptors intend on spending money for the center they so desire. Kleiza is owed over $4.6 million next season, and cutting his salary opens up even more cap space for the team.

Another option not being discussed is a homecoming for Marcus Camby. With restricted free agent Greg Oden needing an extension—and the Blazers unable to use their mid-level exception until salary is cleared—it appears the Blazers will either need to buy out Camby or Brandon Roy for both to happen.

Camby, as much as I am against adding him, would give the Raptors the best shot-blocking and rebounding presence they've had in years; and unlike Chandler, Nene or Gasol, he won't take away playing time from incumbent center Jonas Valanciunas, who will make his Raptors debut next season.

However, many there are many downsides to adding Camby—he's 37 years old, slower and, quite honestly, is one of the worst shooting big men in the NBA (last year he only scored on 39.8 percent of his field goals).

Another option is Bobcats center DeSagna Diop, who will likely become a free agent. The shot-blocking center made over $6.5 million last season and was one of the most inefficient players on the Bobcats roster. Adding Diop would be an absolute worst-case scenario for the Raptors. I doubt they would even spend the money on him.

With Gasol and Nene, though, you have two studs. Both of them are in the primes of their careers and are still young. Both also have some connections to the Raptors, as point guard Jose Calderon has played nationally with Gasol for Spain, and combo guard Leandro Barbosa has played nationally with Nene for Brazil.

Gasol, the 7'1", 265-pound center from Barcelona, had a down year last year by his standards,  finishing with 11.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG and 1.7 BPG on .528 percent shooting. In the playoffs, though, Gasol averaged over 15 PPG and added 11 RPG for the Grizzlies.

Nene, on the other hand, had a career year last year. He averaged 14.5 PPG and added 7.6 RPG and a blocked shot per game on .615 percent shooting.

The Raptors aren't sitting on their hands as they look to improve their team for the upcoming season. By adding one of these big-name centers, the Raptors would go a long way towards gaining respect in the NBA—and could possibly add a playoff berth to the trophy case this season.