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Cole Aldrich and the Center Market for Summer 2016

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The Clippers would love to bring back Cole Aldrich. But will they be able to? Well, it all depends on how the rest of the market shakes out. This is what that market looks like.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Cole Aldrich was one of the bright spots for the Clippers in the 2015-2016 season. Sadly, he is an unrestricted free agent. Even worse, his stellar play has probably priced him out of the Clippers' range. But Cole's worth largely depends on what the market value is for a center, or more specifically, a center with his type of production. So let's take a look at what exactly the market for centers is this summer.

Notable Free Agent Centers: Al Horford, Andre Drummond, Dwight Howard, Hassan Whiteside, Pau Gasol, Al Jefferson, Tim Duncan, Joakim Noah, Bismack Biyombo, Festus Ezeli, Zaza Pachulia, Ian Mahinmi, Donatas Motiejunas, Meyers Leonard.

Several of these guys can be generally eliminated from the free agent pool. Duncan is going to either retire or re-sign with the Spurs. Andre Drummond is getting a max deal from the Pistons. Meyers Leonard is probably going to re-sign with Portland, and they are likely to match most offers as long as they aren't too outrageous. The rest of the players could be going anywhere (though Motiejunas and Ezeli are both restricted free agents). It's impossible to know exactly what contract each player will get until they actually sign, but here are rough projections for the free agent pool.

Max: Horford, Howard, Whiteside

Near Max: Biyombo, Ezeli

MLE+: Everyone else

The issue is how much money teams are willing to pay the lower tier guys if they miss on a Horford or Biyombo. If a team is already prepared to spend max money on one free agent and whiff, they might be more willing to throw more money at a worse player since the money was going to be used anyway. Also, a lot of the players in the middle tiers are going to be evaluated differently by various teams: each one is a unique fit. There are a lot of teams who need centers for 2016 and the future, but what exactly do they need?

Starting Centers Needed: Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Lakers, Miami

Backup Centers Needed: Toronto (if they can't re-sign Biyombo), Atlanta (they still have Tiago Splitter), Clippers, Golden State, Portland

That's seven teams who will be eager to pay top dollar for starting centers, and that's not even counting all the teams who are willing to trade away current pieces for a shot at one of the top free agents. Seven teams...... and only five real max or near-max players. That means a couple of the lower-tier guys are going to be overpaid. Going with the maxim that a rising tide lifts all boats, it isn't a ridiculous assumption to assume that other similar players will also get overpaid. If the Hawks see that Miami just signed Joakim Noah to a 4/60 dollar deal (unlikely I hope), they could decide to throw a virtually identical contract at.... Ian Mahinmi. And while those guys are probably going to command more money than Cole Aldrich, it wouldn't be shocking if he brought in a 4/40 deal in a spending climate.

Basically, the Clippers will need other teams to be smart and/or spendthrift to be able to re-sign Cole (or bring in another guy on this list) for the MLE. Because once a spending spree starts, especially on a certain type of player, it can be hard to stop. The Clippers have limited resources, and they need the price for centers to stay as low as possible. If other teams are offering the MLE or similar deals, the Clippers can trump them with their Los Angeles location and a chance at the Western Conference Finals.

So can the Clippers re-sign Cole Aldrich this summer? Yeah, they can, but they need the market to be at the right climate, and for other free agent pieces to fall into place first. The longer things draw out and the longer Cole has to wait for a deal, the better positioned the Clippers will be.