Even when Anderson Varejao was healthy and playing at a high level, it was pretty clear that the Cavs needed help in the post. And with the Brazilian sidelined due to a broken wrist, Cleveland has tried just about everything with the personnel it has. Semih Erden, Samardo Samuels, Ryan Hollins and Luke Harangody have all earned minutes, but none have been able to do anything of substance.
Things have gotten so bad down low that Byron Scott has named unpolished 6'9 rookie Tristan Thompson, a power forward, the starting center for the foreseeable future. Thompson is gifted with a ton of upside and has shown flashes at times of becoming a more complete player, including Monday's dominant game against the New Jersey Nets, but he is at his best (and poses more of a matchup problem) at the PF position.
While it is likely Varejao will reclaim the starting center position when he returns, he is still a potential trade candidate, has never been a natural "5," and turns 30 in September.
Erden, Samuels, Hollins and Harangody are all unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, and although it is all but assumed that Cleveland will be drafting a big with at least one of its picks in the top 40 (Cleveland currently owns its first round pick, the Lakers' first, the Hornets' second-round pick and its own second rounder), there's a good chance the Cavs will need to sign a frontcourt player as well with a chunk of their substantial cap room this summer.
Here are some likely free agent candidates:
The Do Wants
Brook Lopez, New Jersey Nets (Restricted) - Arguably the best center out there this summer, Lopez was the centerpiece of the Dwight Howard-to-the-Nets trade talks for months, and a deal never got done. Since he's restricted, the Nets could sign an offer sheet, and it'd be hard not to - they can't just let him go for nothing. I'd have to be pretty delusional to think that Lopez would come to Cleveland, though.
Roy Hibbert, Indiana Pacers (Restricted) - I really expect Indiana to get a contract done with Hibbert, who has become one of the better big men in the league. He's going to get paid; the Cavs have plenty of cap room, but the bidding is going to get too high.
Spencer Hawes, Philadelphia 76ers (Unrestricted) - The post player from Washington is having a career year and is a player that would fit in well with the Cavs' scheme offensively. He rebounds the ball (11.7 per 40), can shoot (56.8 percent) and is young (turns 24 at the end of April). He won't draw a giant price tag and could be controlled for a few years.
Omer Asik, Chicago Bulls (Restricted) - The Cavs had interest in Asik at the trade deadline a year ago, and the Bulls wouldn't budge. Now he's going to be a restricted free agent and is a guy the Cavs could make an offer to. In a lot of ways, this one makes the most sense.
Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee Bucks (Unrestricted) - The Turkish big man is going to get his money, and he's definitely earned it; he's played his way into a contract. The question is, does he deserve it? He has an absolutely mind-blowing 20+ PER, but what separates him from a guy like Hawes? I have a feeling someone is going to get desperate and break the bank on Ilyasova.
The Decent Options
Marreese Speights, Memphis Grizzlies (Restricted) - He turns 25 in August and this would be a sneaky play that would fit in line with GM Chris Grant's philosophy so far. Speights can hit the midrange and plays well on the pick and roll. I feel like Memphis would match a low offer, but maybe the Cavs feel like he's a guy worth a multi-year deal.
Robin Lopez, Phoenix Suns (Restricted) - The other Lopez brother busted his chance at a starter's role with Phoenix but is still young and skilled. He would be extremely affordable (his qualifying offer is around $4 million) and is one of those low risk/moderate reward signings.
Jason Thompson, Sacramento Kings (Restricted) - Maybe he's an eight and seven guy forever, or maybe he can be more (he turns 26 this summer), but I have a feeling with the buyout of J.J. Hickson that the Kings at least match an offer for him.
JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets (Restricted) - He's good for at least one LOL moment a game, but his athleticism is off the charts. Unfortunately, the odds of him putting it all together and that he would deserve the contract he's going to get this summer are slim. The Wizards couldn't ship him off fast enough for Nene, and it's not even an assumption that Denver wants to re-sign him yet.
The Wild Cards
Anthony Randolph, Minnesota Timberwolves (Restricted) - He's extremely young and has a ton of upside, but he's thin, has serious "are you kidding me?" moments and might end up looking a bit too much like Ryan Hollins for anyone in Cleveland to want him.
Chris Kaman, New Orleans Hornets (Unrestricted) - He turns 30 soon and likely wants one more big contract and to play for a winner. He almost averages almost a double-double, and there are definitely far worse options out there, but I just don't see it.
Daniel Orton, Orlando Magic (Unrestricted) - The Magic's first-round pick in 2010 never got off the bench in Orlando. He has had injury problems, but he wants to play. The question is whether or not he can get on the floor to earn minutes.
Greg Oden, FA (formerly Portland Trail Blazers) - Former No. 1 pick is someone Cleveland fans have been enamored with for years (and I still don't understand why). He's an injury risk, and is not someone the Cavs will likely feel is worth it, but he does want to play again.
Hasheem Thabeet, Portland Trail Blazers (Team Option) - No.