The two big men the Portland Trail Blazers are interested in heading into free agency are restricted free agents: Tiago Splitter from the San Antonio Spurs and Nikola Pekovic from the Minnesota Timberwolves, but not all offers will be matches by their teams.
The Blazers had J.J. Hickson at center last season, giving them 12.7 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, but both Pekovic and Splitter offer more in terms of efficiency, defensive ability and versatility, and won’t suffer from being severely undersized at the position like Hickson (6’9).
The Timberwolves, at the moment, look like a team that would match any offer for Pekovic, even if it puts them in tax-paying problems. Pekovic made $4.8 million last season, and a deal that gives him eight figures, considering he’s 27 and averaged 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds on 31.6 minutes per game last season make him a player a lot of teams are having a look at.
Splitter had a bad finals run, but any team playing the Heat suffers when they use two centers on the court, with Splitter playing a total of only 12 minutes in the final two games of the series. Both in the regular season and in the finals, if Splitter wasn’t playing for the Spurs and next to Tim Duncan, he probably would have gotten to spend more time on the floor, and produce more than 10.3 points and 6.4 rebounds on 24 minutes a night.
In the case of Splitter, who made $3.9 million last season, the Spurs aren’t going to go all-out in an attempt to keep him. Taking a look at last season’s RFA deals, if he’s offered the kind of money Omer Asik was ($25 million for 3 years), they’ll probably opt to keep him on the team. Anything more than that, and certainly the deal Roy Hibbert got from the Pacers ($58 million, 4 years), and the Spurs will let Splitter walk.
There are those in Portland who think the Blazers shouldn’t settle for mediocrity. They have $11.6 million available in cap space and a 10th round pick. While the team needs added depth, and young center Meyers Leonard is calling for the team to bring in a veteran center to help him develop, Pekovic and certainly Splitter don’t exactly radiate greatness, but there aren’t that many options for the Blazers to find an upgrade, and sometimes you have to overpay a player in order to take a small step forward.