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5 Centers to Target with the MLE if DeAndre Jordan Leaves

If DeAndre Jordan leaves in free agency, the Clippers will have the full MLE to use on acquiring a replacement at starting center. The MLE starts at approximately 5.5 million for four years with 4.5% raises every year, so it ends up being around 23 million in total. Here are five different candidates for the position who may or may not be available for the price.

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I have listed the players below in order of preference, so the first guy on the list, Robin Lopez, is the one who I think would be the best get overall.

Robin Lopez

Age: 27

Size: 7'0, 255

Seasons in NBA: 7

Teams Played On: Phoenix, New Orleans, Portland

Career Money Earned (Last Season): 25 million (6.1 million)

Career Statistics: 8.2/5.0/0.5 with 1.2 blocks in 21.2 mpg on 53.2/75.9 shooting (3 3pt FGA)

Robin Lopez has been an NBA starter for the past three years at the center position, and is around average at that level. He won't wow on either end, but is an extremely solid player who gives consistent effort and results every game.

On offense, Lopez is a lot more versatile than DeAndre Jordan, mostly because of his pick and pop ability. He won't take a lot of jumpers, but he can make them at a good rate if left open. This would help clear out more room for Blake to operate in the post. Robin also possesses a hook shot which he can hit around the basket, and can reliably punish smaller defenders.

Defense is a different matter. Lopez is big and slow of foot, meaning that Doc would have to switch up defensive schemes. He is not quick enough to recover after hedging on pick and rolls, so Terry Stotts, the Trailblazers coach, mostly had him go under screens and sink towards the paint. He has the length to block shots and has good instincts, but is not nearly the defender that DJ is. His main weakness is defensive rebounding, and Blake would likely have to pick up a lot of slack in that area.

The main issue with Robin Lopez is that he will probably get more money than the MLE. It all depends on what other teams do and what the market is for him. Quite a few young centers were just drafted, and there are other higher quality ones on the free agent market, so the Clippers might be able to snag him. It would be a coup.

Kosta Koufos

Age: 26

Size: 7'0, 265

Seasons in NBA: 7

Teams Played On: Utah, Minnesota, Denver, Memphis

Career Money Earned (Last Season): 15 million (3.0 million)

Career Statistics: 5.4/4.7/0.4 with 0.8 blocks in 16.6 mpg on 52.8/61.7 shooting (3 3pt FGA)

Kosta Koufos has been one of the better backup centers in the NBA for several years now, consistently putting up solid numbers on playoff teams. As recently as 2012-2013 he started 81 games for the Nuggets, but was in a platoon situation, playing only 22 minutes a game. Nonetheless, that year he averaged 8 points and 7 rebounds a game, which translates to around 12/11 per 36 minutes. In the last four years, his per 36 statistics have all been in that area, which means if he received big minutes on the Clippers, he would probably average close to a double double.

Koufos does not provide the athleticism or rim protection of DeAndre Jordan, but he is relatively mobile for a 7 footer and is a solid defender. He can't switch onto guards or wings like DJ, but he will protect the rim and is decent on the pick and roll. Koufos is not going to be the anchor of a top defensive team, but he certainly won't hurt the Clippers on that end.

On offense, Koufos is sure handed catching passes on the roll and has enough length and bounce to throw down on defenders. He can't catch lobs like DJ, but has much more touch around the basket and can hit little hook shots from ~7 feet out. He also can occasionally hit midrange jumpers, but that isn't his game. Koufos isn't a creator at all on offense, but should be able to finish easy baskets that CP3 and Blake give him. He is also a much better free throw shooter at 61.7%, which is good enough to prevent hacking.

In regards to availability, Koufos is definitely worth the MLE, but probably won't be able to fetch much more. He has outplayed his previous contract, and it is unlikely that the Memphis Grizzlies can afford to re-sign him.

Amir Johnson

Age: 28

Size: 6'9, 210

Seasons in NBA: 10

Teams Played On: Detroit, Toronto

Career Money Earned (Last Season): 42 million (7.0 million)

Career Statistics: 7.6/5.7/1.1 with 1.1 blocks in 22.6 mpg on 57.3/34.0/68.8 shooting (141 3pt FGA)

Amir Johnson has been a steady presence on the Toronto Raptors for a handful of years now, switching between starting and 3rd big roles. Johnson usually plays power forward, but he is a similar size to other player on this list who are considered centers. The only real fear would be that Amir's proneness to injury would be magnified at center.

Amir probably has the most diverse offensive game among these players, as he is the only one who can hit 3 pointers. This ability to stretch the defense is getting more valuable every year, and is even more helpful on the Clippers, who already have Blake Griffin, a post heavy player. Johnson also has the handles to occasionally take his defender off the dribble, and is a decent passer. While he would be undersized at center, Johnson has enough bounce to finish in the post on the roll or via dump offs.

The main problem would be on defense. Johnson is actually a pretty good post and perimeter defender, but has never really been put in the position of being the last line of defense. He would need to adjust a lot, and putting him with Blake would create a very undersized big man duo. Dwight Howard and the like would have a field day.

Johnson is probably worth more than the MLE, but he always seems to be overlooked, so he might slip for less. He isn't a great fit, but would be a good talent to have at the MLE, and down the road could move to the 3rd big, which would be terrific.

Brandan Wright

Age: 27

Size: 6'9, 205

Seasons in NBA: 7

Teams Played On: Golden State, New Jersey, Dallas, Boston, Phoenix

Career Money Earned (Last Season): 21 million (5.0 million)

Career Statistics: 7.1/3.7/0.5 with 1.0 blocks in 16.4 mpg on 60.6/68.3 shooting (11 3pt FGA)

Brandan Wright is another player who has bounced around a fair amount, and has mostly done his work off the bench. He would be a risk as a full time starter, but should be able to get the job done.

I barely need to discuss Wright as a player because he is basically DeAndre Jordan lite. He isn't quite as athletic, and is a lot smaller, but does all the same things as DJ. He finishes the pick and roll and loves catching lobs. He did make a handful of midrange shots, but only if he is left wide open. The main difference on offense is his far superior free throw shooting, easily good enough to prevent consistent hacking.

On defense, again, he is a lesser DJ. He has the athleticism to block shots and defend the pick and roll, but isn't quite good enough to switch as well as DJ did. He also just isn't as good a rim protector as DJ, though the hope would be that Doc could help him approximate what Jordan did on that end. The other big difference is his much poorer rebounding, and he is another option where Blake would have to step up his efforts considerably on the defensive glass.

Wright is a perfect MLE target, and I think might be the most attainable of these players. He should recognize that being coached by Doc Rivers hugely helped out DeAndre, and that as a similar player he could receive an equal boost.

Ed Davis

Age: 26

Size: 6'10, 225

Seasons in NBA: 5

Teams Played On: Toronto, Memphis, LA Lakers

Career Money Earned (Last Season): 10.4 million (1.1 million)

Career Statistics: 7.2/6.3/1.0 with 1.0 blocks in 21.4 mpg on 55.6/56.6 shooting (1 3pt FGA)

Davis was a lottery pick of the Raptors a few years back, but has since bounced around a bit, and had to sign a minimum deal with the Lakers last season. He had a "breakout" year of sorts, averaging 8.3/7.6 in just 23 minutes and demonstrating his potential on defense.

Davis is long and athletic, and this serves him well at defending the rim, where he can swat shots with ease. Unfortunately, he wasn't effective enough as a total package on that end to stick with the Grizzlies a couple years ago. He is still young enough to be coached up, and one would have to hope that Doc Rivers would be able to work some magic on Davis.

On offense, Davis is basically a lesser version of DeAndre Jordan. He can catch lobs, finish on the pick and roll, and that's about it. He took 53 shots from 5-9 feet last year, and only 17 from further out. Davis is also a poor free throw shooter, though not quite at DeAndre level. He is right around the area where hacking might be an effective strategy, and it would probably be used against him by certain coaches (looking at you Pop).

Davis is looking for more than the MLE according to various reports, but I don't know if he will be able to find suitors at 8 million dollars. At the MLE he will have a lot of competition, though the Clippers can offer a chance to be a starter for a contending team, and he is already living in Los Angeles. Davis would be a nice replacement, but I am not sure if he is really a starting level player or more of a 3rd big.

I still think that all this will end up being moot, as I am relatively confident that DeAndre re-signs, but what do you guys think?