The cupboard is bare for backup centers

The Suns’ whirlwind offseason is drawing to a close. After some major departures and a slew of new additions, the front office has only one spot left to fill: the backup center.

Marcin Gortat, once a high-profile backup himself, has emerged as a big man Phoenix can build around. But he can’t play 48 minutes a night. Robin Lopez, last season’s backup, was shipped off to New Orleans as part of the Wesley Johnson deal. Channing Frye, the only other guy with the size to play at the five spot, is still recovering from injury and won’t be ready for the start of the season. So the Suns must forage in the free agent market one more time. There just one problem — the cupboard is bare.

Taking a quick glance at NBA.com’s list of free agent centers, the players range from “Who is that guy?” to “Please, no, not that stiff.” There are has-beens, retreads, draft busts, and amnesties galore. But from this rough scrap heap, the Suns have to pull out a diamond. Or at least a serviceable cubic zirconia. Here are some players who are likely to get a look.

Kyrylo Fesenko

The big man from Ukraine played in only three games last season for Indiana. Before that, he spent his first four years in Utah. His stats will not blow you away. He’s never averaged more than nine minutes, three points, or three rebounds per game. He spent much of his time in Utah playing for the Jazz’s D-Leauge team. He is not completely bereft of usefulness however. Fesenko does have size, youth, and defensive ability.

John Hollinger says, “The best-kept secret in the NBA right now is Fesenko’s monstrous defensive stats. It’s not that one or two metrics point out his defensive value; it’s that all of them do, without any pointing to the contrary.”

Having a stout defensive presence off the bench would help the Suns tremendously. Last season, opponents were able to extend their lead or evaporate a Suns lead while the second unit was on the floor. Fesenko could be a part-time anchor who could help mitigate that effect. The one thing to watch out for with Kyrylo is foul trouble. He’s not likely to improve in that area, so his playing time would still be limited. Either way he is the favorite of our own Michael Schwartz and probably the Suns’ safest bet to fill their need.

Darko Milicic

Fans of this blog have finally gotten their wish. Darko is free. A free agent that is, after the T-Wolves used the amnesty on him just two years after signing him to a ridiculous contract. But should Darko be cleared to land in Phoenix? I say … maybe.

He has size, but not much else. It’s unclear whether he can walk and chew gum at the same time. That being said, Darko would be a great addition to the Suns simply by perpetuating Phoenix as the All-Draft Redemption team. If the Suns can make the playoffs, or even stay above .500, with Wesley Johnson, Michael Beasley, and Darko on the team, that might be an NBA miracle. On the other hand, adding Darko would make the Suns a strange amalgamation of last year’s Rockets and Timberwolves, two teams that missed the playoffs. Not exactly a good look.

On the court, Darko continues to disappoint for the same old reasons. He has little to no offensive skill other than the putback. He doesn’t rebound at a level you’d expect from a 7-footer, and he’s foul prone. The Suns should have options better than this.

DeSagana Diop and Erick Dampier

I grouped these two together because they’re essentially the same guy. They’re both 7-footers (Dampier is actually 6-foot-11). They both have used their size to stay in the NBA much longer than they should have. They’re both limited from a production standpoint. And they both have a ton of Mark Cuban’s money.

Diop is a little bit younger and thus may have more in the tank from a rebounding and defensive standpoint. However, they’re both basically stand-ins at this point, just a warm body to fill the middle of the key. Both guys are still professionals, and a new scene with full access to the Suns’ training staff could rejuvenate either of them to a replacement-level player. Which would be an improvement. One more thing, Tony Battie and Jamaal Magloire could have easily shared the headline for this section with Dampier and Diop.

Jermaine O’Neal

Just writing that name makes me quiver. The case can be made that O’Neal has been done for two years. He wasn’t really productive at all in Boston. Clearly Ray Allen and KG refused to disclose the location of the Fountain of Youth they found five years ago. The one thing to consider with O’Neal is that he’s only two years removed from being a double-figure scorer. He has been hampered by injuries the last two seasons, and if there’s any team that can heal the injury prone, it’s Phoenix.

O’Neal is still a solid on-ball and help defender despite his declining athleticism, according to John Hollinger. He could be a savvy pickup for the Suns, so long as he’s willing to accept a small contract and backup role. Despite a declining skill set, O’Neal was once a huge star in this league, so coming off the bench for 15-18 minutes a game may not be the role he’s looking for.

Chris Andersen

The Birdman was once a premier energy/rebounding guy in the NBA. His athleticism and enthusiasm were a key part of Denver’s perennial playoff appearances. After the Carmelo Anthony trade, however, Andersen’s role began to decline and Denver brought in several young big men who supplanted him as a backup.

He became a free agent after the Nuggets used their amnesty provision on him this offseason. The Birdman is my personal favorite to fill the backup center role, so long as he still has something left in the tank. If he still has his athleticism and exuberance, I could see him falling into the Louis Amundson role from the 2010 second unit still beloved by Suns fans. He could be a guy who comes off the bench to pull down rebounds, block some shots, stuff a few put back dunks, and get the crowd on its feet.

Andersen would also bring two crucial elements to Phoenix: crazy hair and tattoos. Between Gortat, Dragic, Scola, and Dudley, Phoenix is one of the least tattooed teams in the league. I’m not saying a lack of ink is hurting the Suns’ postseason hopes, but look at Denver. They’re always in the postseason, and they’ve put at least 10 tattoo artists’ kids through Harvard with the money they’ve spent on ink. Birdman has enough tattoos for an entire starting five.

The other area where he helps the Suns is crazy hair. I picture him and Michael Beasley trying to out ‘do (pun fully intended) one another every night, with both of them raising the bar and pushing the limits as their ridiculous hair styles escalate. Plus, it will give the Suns an added chance to get on SportsCenter. Even if it’s in the Not Top 10. If Birdman can still fly, I think he brings the most to the table.

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