Contenders think big in an effort to shore up their rosters for playoffs
Some big men with decent track records have become available lately
The Celtics already have made their moves; other contenders are poised to add
Joe Smith is likely to rejoin Cleveland; San Antonio is eyeing Drew Gooden
In a game of oversized musical chairs, playing out with arena rock anthems and contemporary hip-hop cuts as start-and-stop cues, some NBA big men changed teams in the last week.
The Lakers didn't participate, and the Pistons (Antonio McDyess) and Hornets (Tyson Chandler) previously had ended up getting their own power forwards or centers back again. But for Mikki Moore, Joe Smith, Drew Gooden, Stromile Swift and, allegedly, temporarily, Adonal Foyle, there was a rush on the market. Which, in this economy, is good to see for any market.
Big was in, as playoff hopefuls tried to bolster their bench and shore up their postseason defense for when half-court play dominates. Here's a look at the five big men who were in play (Foyle is the only one who remains unsigned):
Team: Boston Celtics
Vital stats: 7-0, 225, 33 years old, 11 NBA seasons
Recent work: Averaged 3.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 16.2 minutes in 46 appearances with Sacramento
At his best: 8.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 29.1 mpg while shooting 57.7 percent in 82 games for Sacramento in 2007-08
Likely scenario: Moore isn't much of a scorer -- he reached double figures only four times with the Kings -- and had fallen out of the rotation for a lottery team, playing less than 10 minutes in 11 of his final 14 appearances with Sacramento. But anything close to P.J. Brown's contributions, especially on defense, would be terrific.
Quote: "I played with Mikki [in Seattle]. I know how Mikki can help us,'' Celtics guard Ray Allen said after last week's signing. "I know his talent. He can knock down that jumper, he's a great rebounder, he's long, he can block shots. He can help us because he gives us greater size.''
Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
Vital stats: 6-10, 225, 33 years old, 14 NBA seasons
Recent work: 6.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 19.2 mpg in 36 appearances with Oklahoma City
At his best: 18.7 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 38.6 mpg in 80 games with Golden State in 1996-97
Void to fill: Ben Wallace's broken leg created an immediate need, and Smith has been teammates in Cleveland or elsewhere with most Cavs players.
Likely scenario: Smith has been the anti-Stephon Marbury for his various teams, a guy all too willing to avoid the spotlight and quietly fill whatever role a coaching staff carved out for him. That's not how it is supposed to go for former No. 1 overall picks. But Smith's team defense and ability to guard opposing big men -- notably Garnett last spring while with Cleveland -- make him valuable. He thrives where he is comfortable, too, so going back to Cleveland makes sense.
Quote: "He's one of the best teammates I've ever had and I'd love to have him back," LeBron James said as Smith's plan to return to Cleveland leaked out. "We know what type of guy he is -- he's a true professional. Teams always want him.''
Team: San Antonio Spurs
Vital stats: 6-10, 250, 27 years old, seven NBA seasons
Recent work: 13.1 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 29.5 mpg in 32 appearances with Chicago (31) and Sacramento (1)
At his best: 14.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 30.8 mpg for Cleveland in 2004-05 as a Carlos Boozer replacement
Void to fill: Matt Bonner, a key contributor this season, still is more valuable at the offensive end, so Gooden could provide most of his help with rebounding and defense in a frontcourt that also includes the aging Kurt Thomas and Fabricio Oberto.
Likely scenario: Gooden will be joining his sixth team and has been traded during the season in three of his seven years. But he helped Cleveland reach the Finals in 2007, and if Cavs coach Mike Brown can vouch for him to former boss Gregg Popovich, then Gooden will have that -- and familiarity with a Spurs-like defense -- on his side.
Quote: "Now it gives them a bigger, better rebounder and a physical guy, so they can mix and match based on who they're playing a little bit better, for sure,'' Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy told the San Antonio Express-News before the Spurs officially added Gooden.
Team: Phoenix Suns
Vital stats: 6-10, 220, 29 years old, nine NBA seasons
Recent work: 3.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 10.7 mpg in six appearances with New Jersey
At his best: 11.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.7 bpg and 26.5 mpg in 68 games with Memphis in 2001-02
Void to fill: Amar'e Stoudemire's season-ending eye injury opened a huge hole for an athletic big man.
Likely scenario: Swift's NBA career still is known mostly for potential and injuries, with nearly as many team changes (four now) as he's had solid, consistent months of production. His one-and-done stay in Houston in 2005-06 ranks as his most disappointing stop, though his limited use with New Jersey this season owed more to his mother's long illness and recent death (Swift spent six weeks with her). But with new Suns coach Alvin Gentry doing his best to retool and refuel an up-tempo attack, Swift's taking a lane on the break and finishing with a high-percentage dunk is a nice possible fit.
Quote: "This is the best thing for Stro,'' New Jersey GM Kiki Vandeweghe said of the decision to waive Swift. "He wasn't getting a chance to play here, and this is a chance to hook up with another team and get some playing time.''
Team: Orlando Magic?
Vital stats: 6-10, 270, will turn 34 next week, 12 NBA seasons
Recent work: 1.0 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 5.3 mpg in six appearances with Orlando (5) and Memphis (1)
At his best: 5.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.7 bpg, 25.1 mpg in 58 games with Golden State in 2000-01
Void to fill: It never hurts to have a practice player and XXXL insurance policy.
Likely scenario: It looked for a while as if Orlando might bring back Foyle, whom it moved as part of the three-team deal to acquire point guard Rafer Alston. Foyle, after all, knows the Magic system and had a good enough relationship with the organization that he took out an ad in the Orlando Sentinel to thank the fans and the team for his time with them. But the Magic appear set. Or as set as a playoff contender can be with Tony Battie and Marcin Gortat as the only backups to power forward Rashard Lewis and center Dwight Howard.
Quote: "I like our team,'' Smith said.
Steve Aschburner covered the Minnesota Timberwolves and the NBA for 13 seasons for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He has served as president or vice president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association since 2005.