Centers of Attention: Free Agency Recap
Centers of Attention: Free Agency Recap

This article is part of our Centers of Attention series.

Once again, NBA free agency did not disappoint this summer with a flurry of moves early on that resulted in some of the league's best players changing franchises.

Included in those moves are several centers who find themselves in new surroundings heading into next season. Let's highlight some of these players and not only discuss their fantasy outlook moving forward, but also discuss what's ahead for the teams they left behind.

DeMarcus Cousins -- Pelicans to Warriors In a league shifting to smaller lineups, the Pelicans decided to go in a different direction with Cousins and Anthony Davis up front. They did make the playoffs, but only after Cousins went down with a ruptured Achilles near the end of January.

Cousins was having another fantastic season, averaging 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.6 blocks and 2.2 three-pointers per contest. Even though he had to share the floor with the talented Davis, Cousins still managed a hefty, 31.9% usage rate.
With the belief that Cousins may never be the same after such a devastating injury, one of league's best players before his injury found himself in a strange situation on the open market. When teams seemed hesitant to immediately give him a big contract offer, he decided to sign a one-year, $5.3 million deal to join the Warriors.

Cousins now has the luxury of taking his time returning from injury since the Warriors already have a loaded roster. Not only would a late start to the season decrease his fantasy value, but it also seems inevitable that his usage rate will drop significantly. Both Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry finished with usage rates of at least 30% last season. The Warriors also like to play a lot of small lineups, so it's highly unlikely that Cousins will come close to averaging 36 minutes per game -- as he did last season -- even when he's back at full strength.

Now that Cousins is no longer in New Orleans, Anthony Davis shifts over to center given the addition of Julius Randle. Davis had a 32.5% usage rate after Cousins went down, which was the third-highest rate in the league over that sapn. As long as he can stay healthy, Davis should again challenge for the top overall spot in fantasy next season.

DeAndre Jordan -- Clippers to Mavericks: Jordan almost left the Clippers to sign with the Mavericks in the summer of 2015, but the Clippers were ultimately able to convince him, to put it lightly, to re-sign in LA. However, with Chris Paul now in Houston and Blake Griffin in Detroit, the "Lob City" era for the Clippers is officially over.
Jordan opted out of his contract with the Clippers and went through with signing with the Mavericks this time around, agreeing to a one-year deal worth nearly $23 million. The Mavericks desperately needed help at center after the failed Nerlens Noel experiment often meant Dirk Nowitzki was serving as the nominal five.

Coming off of one of the best seasons of his career -- 12 points and 15.2 rebounds per game -- Jordan should again get all the playing time he can handle. With talented guards Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic there to get him the ball, expect Jordan to have another valuable campaign.

The Clippers, meanwhile, were ready to move on from Jordan -- or at least they read the writing on the wall, as evidenced by the acquisition of Marcin Gortat before Jordan had officially departed. Gortat averaged only 25 minutes per game last year, which was the first time he averaged fewer than 30 minutes per game since the 2010-11 season. The Clippers also re-signed Montrezl Harrell and still have Boban Marjanovic to steal some minutes from Gortat, leaving him with limited upside. That said, Gortat has proven to be one of the NBA's better per-minute rebounders, and he should benefit from a much-needed change of scenery.

Dwight Howard -- Hornets to Wizards: Howard had success when Steve Clifford was on the coaching staff during his days with the Magic and Lakers, so it wasn't all that surprising that the Hornets made a trade for him prior to last season. Howard was given an increased role offensively, finishing with a 24.2% usage rate -- his highest mark since his final season in Orlando.

Howard averaged 16.6 points, 12.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game but saw his field goal percentage drop to 55.5%, his lowest mark in more than a decade. He did make some improvements at the charity stripe, but he was still a drag in that category at 57.4% on more than seven attempts per game.

The Hornets fired Clifford after the season, then dealt Howard to the Nets in a salary dump. After securing a buyout, Howard signed a two-year deal with the Wizards, which includes a player option.

Outside of Kemba Walker, there weren't a lot of talented offensive players around Howard in Charlotte. That won't be the case with the Wizards, who have arguably the best backcourt in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards badly needed a starting center after trading away Gortat, but Howard likely won't match his usage rate from last season. Even so, he'll remain a strong source of rebounds and blocks after finishing fourth (12.5 RPG) and 11th (1.6 BPG), respectively, in those categories last season.

With Howard out of the picture, the Hornets will turn to Cody Zeller, Willy Hernangomez and the recently acquired Bismack Biyombo to fill the void at center. Of the three, Hernangomez might have the highest fantasy upside if he comes away with enough playing time. In the five games in which he logged at least 20 minutes in last season, Hernangomez averaged 11.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game while shooting 48.5% from the floor and 79.3% from the charity stripe.

Brook Lopez -- Lakers to Bucks: Lopez's overall numbers last year were down significantly, as he averaged just 13 points and four rebounds per contest. He played only 23 minutes per game for an identity-less Lakers team, which was by far the lowest average of his career. However, Lopez showed he can still produce when given extended run, as he averaged 21.3 points, 5.9 rebounds. 2.3 three-pointers and two blocks over the 15 games in which he played at least 30 minutes.

The Bucks waited out the market and got a steal in Lopez, who signed a one-year contract for the biannual exception of $3.4 million. For a team that tried, and mostly failed, to patch together the center position with the combo of John Henson and Thon Maker last year, Lopez brings a much-needed ability to space the floor.

Lopez should be in line for a bounceback season, but his minutes likely won't spike back up toward 30 per game considering the Bucks still have both Henson and Maker and also brought in Ersan Ilyasova to deploy in smaller alignments. Lopez has historically been a poor rebounder for his size, but he can provide value with points, three-pointers, and blocks (1.7 per game over the last six season).

The Lakers, meanwhile, have brought in several role players in LeBron's wake but really haven't added any impact pieces at center -- unless we're counting JaVale McGee. Rookie Moritz Wagner looked good in summer league, but he's probably a year away from being a consistent rotation player, while Ivica Zubac has his own limitations. Another move could still be in the works, but at this point the Lakers appear content to take the Golden State approach to the center position, with McGee or Zubac as the titular starter who ultimately gives way to more small-ball looks.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike Barner
Mike started covering fantasy sports in 2007, joining RotoWire in 2010. He currently focuses on the NBA. Before RotoWire, Mike wrote for KFFL.com.
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