For a man that hasn’t played in more than a year, Emeka Okafor is highly desired commodity. Earlier this week, rumors surfaced from ESPN that half the league had registered interest in the center who hasn’t seen any action since 2012-13.
Okafor missed the entirety of the 2013-14 season with a herniated disc in his neck. He has reportedly indicated to inquiring teams that he will not be available to play until the midway point of 2014-15 and is likely to wait until that point to choose his next team.This delay puts the Cleveland Cavaliers, and every other team with interest in Okafor, in an awkward situation. The Cavaliers have a serious need for a defensive big who can protect the paint.
A defender like Okafor could take the Cavaliers from being a high octane scoring team who wins games on offense alone, to a team that could get key stops on their way towards a championship … but it could all depend upon the health of a man who doesn’t think he’ll be ready for another four to five months. That’s a scary thought for a team that believes it’s championship window is already open.
Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love have not shown the ability to prevent shots at the paint, and relying solely on Brendan Haywood and Anderson Varejao isn’t enough for a team with championship aspirations. Okafor has historically shown that he be a rim protector.
During the 2012-13 season, opposing teams shot 58 percent from within five feet when Okaor was on the floor. To compare, Marc Gasol‘s Memphis Grizzlies allowed the opposition to shoot 57.2 percent from the same range while Gasol was on the court.
Gasol went on to be named Defensive Player of the Year.
Okafor also has proved to be an elite rebounder. In 2012-13 his rebounding percentage (the percentage of total rebounds a player obtains while on the court) was an impressive 18.3 percent.
Out of players who played a minimum of 25 minutes per game, Okafor was 12th leaguewide.
The late signing period for Okafor adds further challenges for Cleveland. Not only would this force the team to integrate a new significant player midseason, but also requires the Cavaliers to be able to open up a roster spot before any signing could take place.
Cleveland currently has the three non-guaranteed contracts of John Lucas III, Erik Murphy, and Malcolm Thomas, which they could use in the weeks to come. Any, or all, or these players could also be removed from the roster to open up a spot for Okafor, leaving Cleveland with the option of entering the season with only 14 players on the roster.
But despite the issues required having to wait for Okafor, if he proves to be healthy the Cavaliers would be foolish not to try and sign him. Adding a legitimate NBA center who can rebound and defend could help push Cleveland over the top this season.