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The top free agent big men who make sense for the Hornets

The free agent market is bereft of big men, but there is one intriguing option.

Charlotte Hornets v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Last week we explored bolstering the Hornets roster by adding another free agent guard. The majority of the At the Hive community agreed with me that Dennis Schroder was the best fit among the remaining options at the time. But since then the Lakers signed Schroder to a 1-year, $2.64 million deal, which seems like a lost opportunity for Charlotte.

The Hornets next biggest need outside of guard is another true big man. By “true big man” I mean somebody who can patrol the paint, protect the rim, and rebound. Mason Plumlee’s a perfectly serviceable 24-minute-per-game center but he doesn’t strike fear into opponents’ hearts when attacking the rim. Rookie Mark Williams, the No. 15 pick in this year’s draft, can definitely be that guy at 7-feet tall with an incredible 9-foot-9 standing reach, but it usually takes time for non-lottery picks to contribute.

So what traditional big men are still out there? Well, it’s slim pickings, folks.

According to the NBA’s list of available free agents, there are only nine centers to choose from (Moses Brown appears on the list but he has signed with the Clippers), and most of them have major flaws. I’m going to exclude eight of them by group before honing in on the one player who might fit with the Hornets.

Group #1 - The Veteran Distractions

Three guys fall into this group - DeMarcus Cousins, Dwight Howard, and Hassan Whiteside. In their primes their output was usually worth their accompanying headaches, but at this point they’re all well past 30 and coming off the bench. Theoretically each of them could probably put up the types of numbers the Hornets are looking for as reserves, but basketball is so much more than numbers. No thank you.

Group #2 - The Rebounders But Not Rim Protectors

Is there any real difference between Enes Freedom, Ed Davis, Cody Zeller, Tristan Thompson, and Greg Monroe? They’re all veterans who play limited minutes in limited games with limited impact. Most of these guys can go out and inhale some rebounds and convert point-blank shots at the rim, but none of them are rim protectors. The most intriguing player among this group is our good friend Cody Zeller, but the Hornets have already been down that road. When you think about it, is there any notable difference between these guys and Mason Plumlee? The Hornets already have Plumlee, so we’ll pass on his five clones.

The Last, Best Option

By process of elimination, the last (big) man standing is LaMarcus Aldridge.

Before you immediately dismiss the idea by saying something like, “No way. He’s like a million years old.” First, he’s “only” 37 so you were off on his age by, like, over 900,000 years. Yes, 37 is dinosaur age for any player not named LeBron, but Aldridge can still produce.

Last year with the Brooklyn Nets he played in 47 games and averaged 22.3 minutes, 12.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, and one block. He hit just 30% of his 3-point attempts last year, but in the two seasons before that he hit 39% of his shots from downtown.

Despite approaching AARP eligibility age, the 6-foot-11 seven-time All-Star can still score as evidenced by his 12.9 points per game last season. Opposing defenders have to respect his effective mid-range game which can open up the floor for the rest of the team. Defensively, he has blocked at least one shot per game in each of the last 10 seasons and is a smart defender. Aldridge can use his brains, size, and length effectively when banging against the other team’s big men.

From a team chemistry standpoint, Aldridge is the consummate professional. He would be a respected locker room leader and an ideal mentor for Mark Williams in developing his craft.

The real question though is if Aldridge would want to be a one-year rental on a Hornets team that has no shot at winning a title. He went to Brooklyn expecting to chase an elusive championship after 18 years in the league, but Charlotte can’t offer that.

Look, I’m not thrilled with LaMarcus Aldridge as the best remaining option, and he’s probably not even interested. There’s a dearth of available centers who meet the Hornets needs and he’s the best of the bunch. That said, I do think the Hornets would be better with Aldridge playing 16-18 minutes per game than giving more minutes to Mason Plumlee and Nick Richards.

The Hornets are too good to tank, but not good enough to truly compete. NBA teams that aren’t tanking need to be competing. An experienced, capable veteran like LaMarcus Aldridge might not be the ideal fit given his age and remaining career goals, but the Hornets would be better off with him than without him.


If you were GM, would you sign LaMarcus Aldridge on a reasonable deal?

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