Finding a starting-quality NBA center is difficult. The Phoenix Suns have one in Marcin Gortat, but the 29-year old Polish Machine is a quickly becoming an old man on a rebuilding team. Factor in his expiring $7.75 million contract for the 2013-14 season, and you've got a player the Suns need to replace (or extend) quickly.
With the Suns in full rebuild mode, their center does not need to be an All-Star caliber player. In fact, the Suns really just need a guy who can play solid minutes, is productive, and is preferably tradeable when the time comes.
For the past two years, and even for the next year, that guy has been Marcin Gortat. But his age and contract situation will continue to eat away at his trade value for the next twelve months. Sure, it's possible a team might give up a future #1 at next year's trade deadline for Gortat in order to make a playoff push. But that would be a first-rounder from a playoff team - likely a pick in the 20s. If you can get a 2013 lotto pick right now, why not do it?
The latest rumors have several teams wanting to trade their 2013 lottery pick for established talent that can help them make the playoffs this season. Cleveland, Washington, Portland are among them. Portland, in particular, seems a clean fit for Gortat.
Logic dictates that the Suns would use that second lotto pick on a young center with high upside (after using their own for a wing). Problem is, the centers with the highest upside won't be playing 30+ minutes per game in 2013-14, and maybe not even in 2014-15. Alex Len and Nerlens Noel might not be fully healthy for another year, at which point they will still be growing into their bodies. Rudy Gobert has all the dimensions you want, but he needs even more time to develop than Len and Noel. Cody Zeller may best fit at PF some day. The other first-round center prospects may never see 30+ minutes a night in their careers.
Still, the Suns are best served by drafting a young center with the highest upside.
If that's the case, who mans the middle for the Suns in the meantime? With Gortat gone and Jermaine O'Neal off to a playoff team (most likely), someone needs to fill those 48 minutes per contest. You can count me among those who would rather not go into the season with Markieff Morris and Luis Scola on that depth chart for minutes in the pivot. While the Suns may want to stay in the hunt for the #1 pick in 2014, they don't want to do it by winning 10 of 82 games.
Enter Nikola Pekovic.
The 27-year old Pekovic is the starting center for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and this summer is a restricted free agent. He played 62 games in the 2012-13 season, putting up 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds. Pekovic is a solid, lumbering rebounder who gets his offense around the rim.
On the surface, you'd think this is the last guy the Suns should sign to man the pivot.
- He's going to be 28 next year, just a year younger than Gortat. Why not keep Gortat if we're going for middle age?
- Pekovic is good enough to make the Suns respectable, which would hurt their 2014 lotto chances
- Pekovic will demand too much money for a rebuilding team to spend
These are good reasons not to even look in Pekovic's direction. However, as I said before, the Suns need someone to man the pivot.
If you stay with Gortat, you have to stay with him for a good five more seasons (this upcoming season, plus a 4-year free agent contract to keep him in the valley). With Pekovic, the commitment would only be 3-4 years from today.
Pekovic is a good center (16.3 points, 8.8 rebounds) but not spectacular. His Wolves teams barely broke the 30-win barrier with him as the main cog in the middle, so don't worry about losing too much draft position. With nothing of value in the middle, the Suns could win 10-15 games next year, and face a total mutiny from their fans.
If the money is right, say 3 years at $25 million like Omer Asik got last year or even 4 years at $40 million, then Pekovic is eminently tradeable whenever the Suns' younger center is ready for bigger minutes. Many teams want starting-quality centers. When the Suns are ready to acquire a star, having Pekovic as a trade chip is a good thing.
Why would the Wolves give up Pekovic, you ask? I don't know why. But the Suns won't be in bidding wars all summer for the other free agents out there, so it's okay to have their cap space tied up in an RFA offer for three days.
Trading Gortat for a lotto pick, drafting a young center to develop and signing a placeholder in Pekovic just might be the best plan for the Suns' center position this summer.