Some 25 centers to keep over Shaq

If you've been playing fantasy basketball for more than a few years, you know how good Shaquille O'Neal can be. The guy used to be a fantasy monster, a high first-round pick who scored, rebounded, blocked and made his field goals. And he won titles for his NBA teams and fantasy owners. Those days are over, however.

The trade that sent O'Neal from one retirement community in south Florida to another in Arizona might get fantasy owners excited about the prospects for the large, past-his-prime center, based on name value and the potential for what might be. O'Neal is owned in a mere 37.5 percent of ESPN leagues, so that means plenty of owners will see his name available for the taking on their free agent list.

The question is do you really want to take him? What numbers do you expect, and with what frequency? I'll agree with colleague Guy Lake in his trade spin that O'Neal's sore hip probably is going to miraculously heal now that he's gone from the worst team in the league to the best in the West. Amazing what that will do for motivation. What does it do for statistics? And health?

Let's just say I have doubts this is going to work out the way Phoenix wants it to. I see O'Neal not fitting in with the team's running style and missing plenty of games as the Suns realize the only games that really matter are in the playoffs. Well, the games that matter to fantasy owners are in the regular season. Why push Shaq too hard now? Bottom line is, if you think O'Neal is going to greatly increase his current pedestrian statistics, just because he goes to a contending, running team, I think you're missing the point. O'Neal can have big games, but he's 35 and not in good enough shape to stay healthy and be a consistent producer.

Hey, I wouldn't laugh at someone who takes the chance and signs O'Neal to their fantasy hoops team, I just personally wouldn't be dropping any of these 25 centers -- yes, they are all center-eligible -- to do it.

1. Yao Ming, Rockets: Still the best center in the fantasy game, and just look at those percentages!

2. Amare Stoudemire, Suns: Don't worry about his production now that a 325-statue will clog the lane. Stoudemire might even score more.

3. Chris Bosh, Raptors: His rebounds are down a bit, but he has made up for it with 85-percent free-throw shooting.

4. Marcus Camby, Nuggets: This shot-blocking fiend isn't the most durable cat around either, but he's having a monster season.

5. Dwight Howard, Magic: Shaq-like from the line, and pretty soon all his other numbers will mirror Shaq's prime.

6. Chris Kaman, Clippers: I think Shaq will aim to be more of a defensive presence in Phoenix, but Kaman gets three blocks per game.

7. Tim Duncan, Spurs: Actually having a better year than most fantasy owners think. He last hit 70 percent from the line in 2002-03, but he's doing it now.

8. Al Jefferson, Wolves: That trade doesn't really look so silly now, does it? Jefferson is 23 years old and is averaging 21.5 points and 12.3 rebounds.

9. Brad Miller, Kings: Posted a pair of 20/20 games in the past week, then gashed his finger doing dishes. Does Shaq do dishes? I think not! No blocks from Miller, but he passes.

10. Samuel Dalembert, 76ers: He's fifth in the league in blocks and is averaging a double-double. Shaq has nine double-doubles all season.

11. Pau Gasol, Lakers: His trade to the Lakers was the real reason the Suns had to make a move. Gasol was a top-10 player in many drafts.

12. Emeka Okafor, Bobcats: Similar to Dalembert, but hits barely half his free throws. Okafor hasn't missed a game this season.

13. Andris Biedrins, Warriors: Fantasy's No. 10 center for the season hauled in 26 rebounds in a recent game. The presence of Chris Webber doesn't help, but don't panic.

14. Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Cavaliers: OK, the first 10 were easy. Now it gets tougher. Big Z has back-to-back 20/10 games, and 12 blocks in three games.

15. Andrew Bogut, Bucks: Durable and consistent, Bogut averaged 16.3 points and 9.6 boards in January.

16. Tyson Chandler, Hornets: Has posted a career low in blocks but has more than 12 points and rebounds per game. Man, the Bulls could use that.

17. LaMarcus Aldridge, Blazers: The second-year power forward has center eligibility and averages nearly 17 points a night.

18. Mehmet Okur, Jazz: Season numbers don't excite, but he's at 18.7 points and 10.3 boards in February, and his range is back. Plus, he's a respectable 79-percent free-throw shooter.

19. Al Horford, Hawks: The reliable rookie is close to averaging 10 boards per game. The 20 he garnered against the Lakers Wednesday didn't hurt.

20. Rasheed Wallace, Pistons: Not much for percentages, but he always gets the threes, blocks and steals. Shaq might get the blocks, and might get 12 and 7. Or he might not.

21. Jeff Foster, Pacers: Definitely not a scorer, but as a starting center, he pulls in 9.7 rebounds and shoots 56 percent from the field. And he'll continue starting.

22. Brendan Haywood, Wizards: This is a close one, but Haywood really isn't cooling off. January stats were fine, and he's off to a good start this month.

23. Andrew Bynum, Lakers: Hmmm. Bynum owners will be tempted to cut bait and look elsewhere. Can you afford to wait until mid-March? If Shaq plays half the Suns games, will it really be that much more than Bynum? I'd throw Jermaine O'Neal into this section as well, for the same reasons, but I don't expect to see him play again this season.

24. Al Harrington, Warriors: Tons of 3-pointers, but he's in the midst of his worst rebounding average (5.2) since 2000-01. Also, eight blocks ... for the season?! Still, on the treys alone, you keep him over Shaq.

25. Eddy Curry, Knicks: A strange pick to some, but this guy is productive when he's on the court. On Wednesday, for instance, Curry had 20 points and 8 rebounds, and early in January he contributed three games with 24 or more points. Yes, the turnovers and lack of blocks can get annoying, but chances are Curry will get paroled out of New York soon, which should help him. He's certainly looked good the last two games, hitting 15 of 21 shots, and that's a good sign for things to come.

OK, so that's about where I would draw the line on whom I would drop to get Shaq. Hey, there are some owned fantasy centers I didn't name, like Ben Wallace, Troy Murphy, Darko Milicic and Nazr Mohammed, for starters. Milicic has moments where he looks like a future star for the Grizzlies, and the Pau Gasol trade should directly help him, but he also has a lot of nothing nights. Other than the blocks, the main thing you can count on from him is inconsistency. The Bobcats claim Mohammed will be the starting center the rest of the way. Pardon me while I step away from the computer to do a celebratory cartwheel. Murphy hits threes for the Pacers, nine of them in four February games, and he has averaged eight rebounds per game since January started. Hmmm, maybe this list should be 26 centers I'd rather have ...

One final thought on Shaq, though I'm sure there will be more in future blogs: Remember the suspended NBA game from Dec. 19, when the Hawks beat the Heat, but a scorekeeper's error got the win suspended? O'Neal was called for his fifth foul in that game, in the final minute, but the scorekeeper thought it was his sixth. O'Neal had to leave the game. The Heat lost. Then the Heat protested. Then the Heat got its wish. (Right, just what the losingest team in the league wants: to play more meaningless basketball.) And on March 8, when these teams meet again for a regular game, and play the final 51.9 seconds of the other game to decide that winner, O'Neal will no longer be a part of it. Yep, he was the reason for the protest in the first place, but now he won't be there to help decide the winner.

In case you were wondering, Miami will not be allowed to use Shawn Marion or Marcus Banks for the conclusion of the December game. Fantasy owners are always looking for that edge, you know.

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