There doesn’t seem to be much enthusiasm for the remaining free-agent centers. Understandable considering it wasn’t a deep crop of free agents to begin and it quickly thinned out after Shaq finished off the second wave of signings and now really looks to be shrug-worthy with Kwame Brown in Charlotte.
Brown’s signing also seems to mean Erick Dampier is the odd center out in Charlotte from among Nazr Mohammed and DeSagna Diop. As training camp approaches, the Hawks will look to see which vets are waived and presumably they’d be interested in Dampier if he’s let go since he’s probably a better option than the other centers on the market (comparisons below).
Dampier is owed $13 million in non-guaranteed money next season so Charlotte could waive him to clear salary but Bobcats GM Rod Higgins says he’s seeking to trade Dampier after Sept. 13. No team is going to pay Dampier that salary so he’ll become a free agent one way or the other.
Higgins’ next big move involves Dampier, acquired last month in a five-player deal that sent Chandler to the Mavericks. Dampier’s non-guaranteed contract is a big chip for the Bobcats, who are desperately trying to get under the NBA’s luxury-tax payroll threshold of $70.3 million.
Charlotte could simply waive Dampier and get under that figure, and they had planned to do that and re-sign him. Because Charlotte is over the salary cap, it only can offer Dampier $2.2 million this season, what’s left over from the $5.7 million midlevel exception after the Bobcats struck a two-year, $7 million deal with point guard Shaun Livingston a day after the Dampier trade.
The 35-year-old Dampier rejected that offer, but agent Dan Fegan said his client hasn’t completely ruled out returning to Charlotte if he’s waived.
“It’s not a closed deal from our perspective,” Fegan said. “I understand what Rod Higgins is trying to do. I have a good relationship with Rod, and I’m sure we’ll figure it out.”
The potential problem for the Hawks, of course, is if Dampier turned down $2.2 million from Charlotte he wouldn’t be inclined to sign for the minimum. Atlanta’s team salary is roughly $2.7 million under the luxury-tax threshold so there’s some wiggle room above his vet minimum of $1.35 million. Dampier wouldn’t come with the potential headaches that spooked them with Shaq so, who knows, maybe the Hawks would offer Dampier more than the minimum if it came to that.
So far the minimum looks to be the market price for Josh Boone, Francisco Elson and Brian Skinner. Here’s a statistical comparison of the four centers’ production per 48 minutes last season along with their opponents’ production per 48, via 82games.com. For Elson and Skinner, I used their 2008-09 statistics since they didn’t play significant minutes in 2009-10. These numbers come with the usual disclaimers about context, role, etc.
eFG%=effective field goal percentage
iFG%=inside field goal percentage
Dampier (1280 minutes played)
Opponent counterpart vs. Dampier
Boone (1045 minutes played; stats are for roughly 500 minutes played at center)
Opponent counterpart vs. Boone (at center)
Skinner (roughly 340 minutes played at center)
Opponent production vs. Skinner (at center)
Elson (977 minutes played, all but a handful at center)
FGA eFG% FTA iFG REB AST TO BLK PF PTS PER
Opponent counterpart vs. Elson
A comparison of the four centers via basketballreference.com shows that Dampier comes out ahead in true shooting percentage (accounts for free throws), rebounding percentage, block percentage, offensive and defensive ratings and win shares. He’s good on the offensive glass, efficient scoring at the rim (and smart enough to almost never attempt shots away from the basket), doesn’t foul very much despite the good block rate and has the size to contend with the East’s post bangers.
Boone’s Synergy numbers as a post defender are pretty solid, suggesting he can hold his own down there with his length and relatively slight frame. He’s still only 25, too. But there doesn’t look to be an upward trend in his production. And it’s not like the Hawks are looking to give out a long-term deal, anyway.
Dampier spent years as a starter in the Mavericks’ winning program. Boone was a rookie on New Jersey’s ‘06-’07 playoffs squad. Elson played 20 postseason games for San Antonio’s 2007 champion. Skinner’s teams were bounced from the first round three out of four times; he was a bit player for Philadelphia’s ‘02-’03 team that made the second round.
Dampier seems to be a pretty low-maintenance vet. During the 2006 Finals, us hacks kept trying to bait him into verbally sparring with Shaq after he’d once famously called him “Ericka” Dampier. Dampier wouldn’t bite and was dang near emotionless when talking about. As I recall, he ended up being pretty solid off the bench against the Heat after not playing in the West finals.
So I guess all of this is a long way of saying Dampier appears to be a better option than the vet free agents available at the moment. I’d give Dampier the edge over Boone because of his size, defense, efficient scoring and an amazingly single-minded focus on his role. He’s a solid pro who might come at a reasonable price, which of course means there should be a market for him once he’s finally released.