Chicago Bulls Center Prospects in Free Agency: Dwight Howard, Meyers Leonard, Timofey Mozgov

Mar 5, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) reacts to a foul call against the Chicago Bulls during the first quarter at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 5, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) reacts to a foul call against the Chicago Bulls during the first quarter at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports /

Dwight Howard hated the Houston Rockets’ one-man system. Timofey Mozgov would be a mid-term solution, but a strong defensive role player who can dominate. Meyers Leonard is a younger option in the middle. What could the Chicago Bulls do?

Looking at the free agents available at center this summer, the Chicago Bulls can go all-out if they feel they have a chance at beating the Cleveland Cavaliers or any comers in the Eastern Conference.

What kind of prospects do the Bulls have among unrestricted free agents at center?

Maximum Contract Superstar ($20M plus 1 -2 years)

Dwight Howard may be the win-now option for max contract centers available given his defensive prowess, skills and strength. He can still overpower opposing bigs, but his diminished athleticism may short-change the Chicago Bulls lineup and force them to slow down the game to help him along.

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Even with a slowed down game, the Bulls can run when Howard makes defensive stops as former three-time defensive player of the year in the NBA. Howard can foul out opposing teams’ front courts too if that is an option for tuning the Bulls system next year.

The Bulls could build their attack similar to how the Orlando Magic did on their way to the NBA Finals in 2009 with Howard and four  athletic shooters around him.

He opted out of a $20 million contract option partly because Houston hired Mike D’Antoni, Howard’s coach with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Howard will have help up front from his backups: Robin Lopez and Cristiano Felicio plus Bobby Portis and new recruit Paul Zipser helping with rebounding and post defense chores.

Howard averaged 13.9 points, 11.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks last season. These stats look flimsy for a former All-NBA big, but the Rockets ran everything thru James Harden. The video above shows us how productive Howard actually is when the Rockets share the ball.

Can the Bulls hire a player who may be a locker room annoyance because of his ego and penchant for pranks? If Howard can still deliver his A-game on defense and be enough on offense, he will be the perfect fit in a shared-ball offense, no matter what naysayers prattle about him.

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Midrange Contract Fills-a-Role Big ($12M plus 2-4 years)

Meyers Leonard looks like a fit for the Bulls’ pace-and-space requiring a stretch five who is a rim runner and still physical enough to match up with any big on defense.

In a system that reverses roles and has the bigs running pick-and-pops as spot-up shooters and the guards and wings attacking the rim, Hoiball looks like a perfect fit for Leonard. He can play with deadly efficiency as a 25-year-old and still at the top of his game, despite the shoulder injury that limited him last season.

His defensive game will be adequate enough with Robin Lopez still being the backstopper in the paint if Leonard plays time at the four spot. Leonard being a threat from long range easily stretches the floor for more offensive options in Hoiball.

Leonard scored 8.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and shot 37.7 percent from long range this past season.

Budget Contract Free Agent Center  ($6-9 M plus 2-3 years )

Timofey Mozgov wallowed on the bench with the current NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

He lost his biggest believer when Cavaliers coach David Blatt didn’t fit the locker room culture until management replaced the coach to avoid a meltdown. LeBron James may have been responsible for the coup, which had Mozgov sitting on the bench and Tristan Thompson playing instead.

All this means Mozgov will be undervalued this summer as a defensive big man, but is still a Russian tank of a multi-role stretch five that the Bulls can steal. Mozgov can still hit off pick-and-pops and is deadly attacking from the wing off cuts or diving in the pick-and-roll against smaller bigs.

Next: 2016 Free Agency Primer for the Bulls: Point Guards

He isn’t a proficient back-to-the basket big and his utilization as a post-up center backfired for David Blatt.

Forget Mozgov’s stats for a moment and remember what he can do with his A-game for the Bulls. That should give Gar Forman enough motivation that Mozgov can wing it better than some max-contract big men with fat stat sheets among the unrestricted free agent pool.

With Robin Lopez and Cristiano Felicio helping him, the Bulls become rock solid in the middle.

These three center prospects should be enough for GarPax to decide which player warrants a spot in the Bulls roster to help round out the team.  The eleven-man list still needs a veteran or two from free agency but everything is up to the front office which position they make redundancy count.