At this moment in time, the LA Clippers have filled out their roster with 14 guaranteed contracts and one two-way deal (second-round pick Moussa Diabaté). That open roster spot is a fascinating area to examine because as we trek through the offseason, the Clippers are left with a glaring hole: backup center.
There are a few free agent centers left on the open market that could interest the Clippers, and with the team holding an opening, perhaps they’ll look at them to fill the void that Isaiah Hartenstein’s departure created.
While there is also Moses Brown, whom the Clippers brought in this offseason on an Exhibit 10 deal, there’s no real major reason to discuss him at the moment since he’s already on the team, at least in a camp invite sense. Instead, we’ll look at a few of the players left unsigned that could potentially still interest the Clippers.
1.) Hassan Whiteside
The 33-year-old is coming off a season for the Utah Jazz in which he averaged 8.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in just 17.9 minutes per game. Whiteside was the primary backup for all-world center Rudy Gobert. With Gobert’s departure via trade to the Minnesota Timberwolves, it could open up a starting spot for Whiteside with the Jazz, but should he opt to “ring chase,” he’d be a good option for the Clippers.
The downside with Whiteside is that he can only play drop coverage as a pick-and-roll defender which does limit some of his value at times. Regardless, it’s hard to find many better options that can fill the backup center role as well as he can and do it without really rocking the boat. Teams have been better with Whiteside on the floor as opposed to off in three of the last four seasons.
2.) Cody Zeller
Last season was the worst of Zeller’s career as he averaged just 5.2 points and 4.6 rebounds in 13.1 minutes per game for the Portland Trail Blazers, but he also played in only 27 contests. Zeller spent the first eight years of his career with the Charlotte Hornets before signing as a free agent with Portland last August. Zeller was waived by Portland in February.
The positive with Zeller is that he can play in a switch-heavy scheme, but he has real availability issues as he’s played in just 215 games over the last five seasons. Zeller turns 30 in early October and was a serviceable player for a few years during his prime. He wouldn’t be the worst option, but he’d have to prove he’s healthy after undergoing surgery for a patellar fracture in his right knee back in late January.
3.) Dwight Howard
Speaking of veteran centers, it might not get much more “veteran” than Howard. The center averaged 6.2 points and 5.9 rebounds last season for the Los Angeles Lakers, playing in 60 games overall while starting 27 of them. Howard will turn 37 years old in December, so there really might not be much meat left on the bone as far as his playing career is concerned, but he can still rebound at a moderately helpful level.
Like Whiteside, Howard can really only play in a drop coverage scheme and has severe mobility issues at times due to the plethora of back problems he’s had to deal with over the duration of his future Hall of Fame career. It wouldn’t be an awful risk for the Clippers to take since there will be nights where they don’t need his services, but the reality of how much helpful basketball he has left in him is a real question they’ll have to contend with.
4.) Tristan Thompson
Next up on our rotating hodgepodge of veteran centers to look at is Thompson. He averaged 6.0 points and 5.1 rebounds last season in time spent between three teams — Sacramento Kings, Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls. They were the worst marks of his 11-year career and it definitely feels like the bottom is falling out in regards to the impact that he can make on a basketball court.
Maybe Thompson just wasn’t motivated last season since he wasn’t playing for a contender, and perhaps reuniting him with his former coach in Tyronn Lue could possibly reignite something inside Thompson. He’s still one of the best offensive rebounders in NBA history. Either way, Thompson would fit even if what he provides is nowhere near the level he was at even a couple years ago.
5.) Luka Garza
If you’re looking on the young side for backup centers, Garza should catch your eye. After all, he turns 24 in late December and finished his rookie year with the Detroit Pistons last season. Garza averaged 5.8 points and 3.1 rebounds in 12.2 minutes per game last season, but he did start five games, averaging 11.4 points and 7.4 rebounds in those contests.
Garza represents a similar swing as to what the Clippers took on Isaiah Hartenstein last season, albeit with less of a track record of success in the league. Garza averaged only 6.5 points and 3.8 rebounds in four Summer League games with the Trail Blazers, but he still wouldn’t be a bad option for a potential camp invite where he’d be given the chance to win the job a la Hartenstein last season. Could be a battle with Moses Brown, perhaps?