Center position still thriving in league

Bill Russell isn't walking through that door. Ditto for Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon or in honor of Rick Pitino's infamous comment during his forgettable Boston Celtics days Robert Parish.

Today's NBA, to be clear, is still a ways from earning golden era status when it comes to the center position. But in the name of Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah, Roy Hibbert and the rest, can we please stop with this nonsense about the center position being dead and the basketball world being ruled by perimeter players?

This revelation comes courtesy of a recent conversation with Shaquille O'Neal, the newest minority owner of the Sacramento Kings and resident mentor to jordans for sale young big man DeMarcus Cousins. O'Neal's goal, you see, is to get the 23 year old Cousins to the top of this ever growing list of talented centers in today's game. As jumpman23 shoes he explained this new personal mission, he shed light on his view of the modern day center landscape.

"Some people say Dwight (Howard) is the best, and then some people follow up with Brook (Lopez), and then they'll say Roy (Hibbert)," O'Neal told USA TODAY Sports. "(They) probably have DeMarcus (ranked) four. Some people say Brook is the best. All the stuff I've been reading, and I've been hearing, DeMarcus is always at that four."

So naturally, I wanted to put that theory to the test. Is that, in fact, the generally agreed upon totem pole these days? It doesn't appear to be the case. I asked six front office executives, reached via text message and granted anonymity to inspire honesty and avoid tampering charges, to rank the best centers in the NBA. The results:

Executive No. 3: Howard, Gasol, Hibbert, Noah, Andrew Bogut, Lopez, Tyson Chandler, Chris Bosh, Al HorfordExecutive No. 4: Noah, Gasol, Hibbert, Anderson Varejao, HowardExecutive No. 5: Howard, Gasol, Nikola Pekovic, Noah, LopezExecutive No. 6: Howard, Lopez, Gasol, Tim Duncan, Noah, Cousins, Jonas Valanciunas

I share this not to start a debate about which of the aforementioned players should be jordans for sale considered power forwards, or even to reach some sort of consensus about a top five, but to shed light on the fact that this season will be as much about the five spot as it will anything else. The varied answers and perspectives from the NBA personnel experts speak volumes about the depth of talent down low, and we soon shall see which of these tall men can take their teams to new heights.

So even with Miami's ability to win back to back titles with their major damage being done on the wings, and even though the short list of preeminent superstars is indeed dominated by perimeter players, there's no shortage of centers who matter anymore. If Dwight can pass the chemistry test with the Rockets and play like his old self and O'Neal, to no one's surprise, doesn't foresee that happening then Houston may become the place to be come June. If Hibbert can be the kind of force he was during the last postseason run, then the Pacers may be laughing last after all the hype surrounding the Nets and Knicks has passed. And so on.

Speaking of chuckles, Chuck Barkley's assertion in our interview that offseason addition Greg Oden is a major key for the Miami Heat led to some laughter in the Twitter verse. I get the accurate skepticism, of course, considering Oden hasn't played a game since Dec. 5 2009 and already is being held out of practices because of sore knees. But cheap jordans there's truth in Barkley's premise that speaks to this point about the revival of the NBA center, the notion that the Heat won't be able to hold on at the top unless they do something at that spot.

"I think that you saw the flaws in the Miami Heat last year, (specifically) their lack of size," Barkley said. "And I think the key to me is going to be (free agent center addition) Greg Oden. If he gives them physical size, it's going to be very difficult to beat the team. But that's their real weakness size. Every big guy they play against just dominates them. I think it really, to me, it depends on what Oden has left in the tank.

"You saw last year, where first of all they shouldn't have won the championship San Antonio just flat out blew it, but you see how (Indiana Pacers center) Roy Hibbert, (San Antonio forward) Tim Duncan had flashbacks. When they play against big guys man, they just get dominated."

Yet it wasn't too long ago that the Heat didn't have these kinds of concerns, when the possible extinction of the center was a very real thing. In October 2012, the NBA announced that there would no longer be a center spot on the annual All Star ballot. Howard fired back with a salvo like he only he knows how, releasing a "Save the Centers" video on YouTube that sought pledges to help the disappearing big men and promote his training facility where centers are groomed into point guards. That All Star move, as a quick aside, has not been forgotten by one of the many young and talented centers.

"I think it's a little messed up that they took the center slot off the All Star ballot," Clippers center DeAndre Jordan told me last week. "I think that's a little screwed up. But I mean, whatever, that's beside the point. I think that's messed up. How can you (do that)? Centers aren't extinct. That's a position. You know what I mean?"

A strong one at the moment.

It took a perfect storm of sorts to get them to this point, though. Howard, whose April 2012 back surgery led to his forgettable season with the Lakers, appears healthy again and thus is poised to be seen as the chief center of them all. Hibbert, who just last summer had some fans and media scratching their heads when he landed a max contract offer from the Portland Trail Blazers that was matched by the Pacers, has evolved so quickly that he's widely considered one of the best around.

Gasol's unique skillset short on athleticism, long on smarts, defensive positioning and nearly everything else was appreciated by the masses more than ever en route to his Memphis Grizzlies reaching the Western Conference finals. Noah, despite his current groin injury, was healthy enough last season to be showcased and adored in a time when Derrick Rose's absence made him so very vital. Lopez, who should have another tremendous showing ahead considering the incredible help he now has around him, had his most impactful campaign yet while helping Brooklyn go 49 33 before falling to the Bulls in the first round. The brutish Pekovic became a Most Improved Player candidate in Minnesota, the Detroit Pistons came into an abundance of promising centers in Greg Monroe cheap jordans and Andre Drummond. The altered All Star ballot be darned, it's forward momentum for centers all around. Even more interesting, from this vantage point anyways, is the fact that these talks clearly began just a matter of days ago.

When I spoke to Bogut earlier this month, we discussed the possibility of an extension and this is where it stood.

"I'll let the chips fall where they may," he said. "I'm not going to rush things. I'm not going to kick and scream about an extension. I'm just going to let them fall where they may. I'm just happy to be playing basketball again.

"We haven't really spoken about (an extension), to be honest. We haven't had any conversations about it. Like I said, I'll let the chips fall. I'm not going to pressure anyone to do anything."

Nine days later, Bogut was saying there were concrete numbers being shared between his agent, David Bauman, and Warriors officials, and the idea of locking him up right now became more real. The intrigue here is rooted in two conflicting truths that make the Warriors' decision tricky.

Bogut's health history is awful, which would typically inspire teams to laugh out loud at the idea of an extension. But he's feeling better than ever now and has shown how vital he can be to them when he's healthy, meaning the Warriors could a la Stephen Curry and the four year, $44 million extension that he agreed to last October wind up saving beaucoup bucks if he has the sort of impact that would raise his market value come free agency time in July.

That knife cuts both ways of course. Bogut's injuries have left him humbled by his own lack of health, so it's safe to assume that even though an extension maxes out at three years and he could get four as a free agent he'd rather secure his future now rather than see it all fall apart again this season should another setback come his way. Then again, the allure of landing an even bigger payday should all go well has to be tempting too.

MOMENT OF THE WEEK: Welcome home?

And you thought Peyton Manning's return to Indianapolis was the big reunion game this week.

Former Phoenix Suns coach Alvin Gentry returned on Tuesday to the place where he was so unceremoniously dismissed in January, this time serving as the lead assistant of a Los Angeles Clippers team that is headed for far greater things than the Suns at the moment. Head coach Doc Rivers made the visit one to remember, though, mysteriously becoming ill and handing the head coaching reins to Gentry. As USA TODAY Sports power rankings brethren Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic so aptly put it, "Cough, cough, wink, wink."

After the Clippers held on for the win, Gentry who remains one of the best and brightest in the business was his candid self when discussing his time in Phoenix.

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