Your bigs are weak? Hey, no problem! - NBC Sports

Your bigs are weak? Hey, no problem!
NBA's final four prove you don't need a top-notch center to win a title,but soon-to-be-free agents Yao, Oden, Dalembert still will cash in
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Thunder center Kendrick Perkins shoots over Mavericks center Shawn Marion during Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.
May 24, 2011, 12:05 pm

It could be the center in Portland who barely plays. The center in Memphis who no longer is playing. The center in Houston who might never play again. Or perhaps the center in Sacramento who has yet to play a truly significant game over his nine seasons.

No, Greg Oden, Marc Gasol, Yao Ming and Samuel Dalembert haven't done a darn thing over the past week.

Except, probably, cash in. With the pre-draft camp just concluded in Chicago and despite the absence of a big-time center in the final four of the NBA playoffs, that's what probably will happen.

Your NBA champion might well be a Miami Heat team that finishes the season with a center rotation of Joel Anthony, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Jamaal Magloire and Erick Dampier.

Or perhaps the team emerging from the Eastern Conference finals will be the Chicago Bulls, with their robo-rebounding tandem of Joakim Noah and Omer Asik, a pair more force than flair.

And in the West? Well, Dallas' Tyson Chandler and Oklahoma City's Kendrick Perkins hardly conjure visions of Olajuwon, Kareem or even Ewing. Rebound? Yes. Score? Not so much.

And it's not as if there is a cavalry on the way in the draft, with as few as four centers projected to go in the first round (and that might be a stretch) and the lone collegian in that group being Maryland's middling Jordan Williams or perhaps Oakland's Keith Benson.

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Yet teams keep reaching for that elusive mix of height and hope.

It is why the growth of a Roy Hibbert in Indiana tends to be overstated, why the Timberwolves can crow at least at the start of this past season about the reclamation of Darko Milicic, and why the Suns couldn't jump fast enough when Marcin Gortat became available on the trade market, even if it meant also having to take on the player formerly known as Vince Carter. Heck, even Kwame Brown is still floating around, the cockroach of centers, who clearly never will go away.

It is why Kurt Thomas will get another year somewhere, Joel Przybilla will be mentioned as a "coveted" free agent, Spencer Hawes will receive a qualifying offer from the 76ers and Chris Wilcox, Francisco Elson and Nenad Krstic will continue to find work on the free-agent market. And why it very well might not be over yet for Shaq.

Generally, when a champion is crowned, the remaining field tries to emulate that formula. This season, that should send a signal that there is no dire need for a scoring center. The Heat, Bulls, Mavericks and Thunder certainly don't have one.

Example A is Sunday's 96-85 Heat victory over the Bulls, where Anthony scored three points for the Heat and Noah one, yes, just one, point for the Bulls.

But this remains a league where height still is considered right, bulk viewed as better, and tall as title timber.

Which brings us back to Oden, Gasol, Yao and Dalembert.

Most intriguing is Oden, selected ahead of Kevin Durant at the top of the 2007 draft. Despite again being unable to make it to the court this season, and despite playing just 82 games since going No. 1 in 2007, the Blazers very much are weighing extending an $8.8 million qualifying offer by the June 30 deadline. That would allow Portland to match outside bids for the restricted free agent or work toward a multiyear deal with perhaps a lower starting point.

Why? Because the Blazers recognize it probably would take even more to find a replacement with similar upside, as low as the percentage is of that upside surfacing.

Then there is Gasol, everyone's favorite mid-level option at the start of this season. Only Gasol not only pushed well past such a pay grade, his postseason performance probably will have him back in Memphis for something closer to Randolph money, even with Rudy Gay already having cashed in.

Beyond that, there is Yao, who even now does not know if he ever will play again. Although there is loyalty to the Rockets, if a team would come with the mid-level (Knicks?) it might be difficult to bypass. Again, another sign of the desperation in the middle, that a gamble on getting nothing, sort of what like Toronto got a few years back with Hakeem Olajuwon, still is worth mid-level money these days.

This is not saying that the larger-than-lifes don't have their place. By landing Kendrick Perkins, the Thunder were able to allow Serge Ibaka to flourish at power forward. With Chandler in place in Dallas, there is less concern about Dirk Nowitzki's defense. Noah makes Carlos Boozer's little-big-man game work more efficiently in Chicago, as it did Sunday in Miami. Ditto, to a degree, with Joel Anthony alongside Chris Bosh in Miami, with Bosh allowed to focus on his scoring Sunday, with Anthony blocking five shots.

Perhaps this is where the drought has led us, to a place where centers not named Dwight merely stand as body guards. That well could be Oden's fate in Portland alongside LaMarcus Aldridge.

There was a time when centers were centers of the NBA universe.

Now, as these playoffs and last week's pre-draft camp in Chicago show, they have become little more than accessories.

For those willing to pay, they also might stand as nothing more than fool's gold.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.