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Friday, December 2, 2011
At the Center of attention

By Jared Zwerling and Ian Begley

It's no secret that if the Knicks want to contend, they need to upgrade the middle man in their front line.

Last season, the Knicks ranked 20th in rebounding and allowed an average of 45.4 points in the paint, the fifth-highest total in the league. They were also outrebounded by 3.5 boards per game and ranked 26th in opponent field goal percentage.

Jerome Jordan has been playing in Europe for a second term, and although his agent expects him to be with the Knicks this upcoming season, Jordan's status with the team is unclear at this point. So the Knicks are going to have to explore a center addition through free agency.

The problem is, they are likely to offer just one-year contracts to free agents to maintain cap space for the 2012 offseason, when Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and Deron Williams can test free agency. That approach limits their options, likely taking them out of the running for this year's top candidates: Tyson Chandler, Nene, Marc Gasol and DeAndre Jordan.

With that in mind, we took a look at a few realistic options for the Knicks.

SOLID ADDITION

Samuel Dalembert -- Reports indicate that the Knicks can't afford Dalembert, who made $13.4 million last season with the Kings. But he would bring top rebounding and solid shot-blocking to the team’s interior. According to ESPN.com's John Hollinger, Dalembert’s rebounding rate was eighth among centers in 2010-11. He blocked 1.45 shots per game, good for 17th in the league. As Hollinger notes, Dalembert hurts himself by taking too many risks near the rim, but he no doubt would be an upgrade over Ronny Turiaf and Co. Unfortunately, Dalembert is likely too expensive for the Knicks.

NEXT BEST OPTIONS

Kurt Thomas -- At 39, Thomas is the oldest player in the NBA. But, at times, he looked like a young man last year in Chicago. The cagey veteran filled a void when Joakim Noah went down with an injury midway through the season. Thomas started 37 games for the Bulls and provided strong rebounding (5.7 boards per game in just under 23 minutes played). At 6-9, Thomas struggled guarding centers one-on-one, but according to Hollinger he was a strong team defender. So he could certainly fill a void for the Knicks. Problem is, Thomas’ agent told the New York Post that the former Knick is more interested in re-signing with Chicago to pursue a championship.

Kwame Brown -- The former No. 1 overall pick in 2001 can’t change the fact that he’ll always be known as a draft bust. But at 6-11 and 270 pounds, Brown is a big body who can occupy the paint for the Knicks, and he's finally starting to come into his own after 10 years in the league. Brown doesn’t react well on defense, according to Hollinger, which is why he ranked 56th among centers in blocked shots. But he can rebound (6.8 rebounds in 26 minutes per game last season). He's also becoming a better offensive player, which he showed at the end of last season, averaging 11.8 points and seven rebounds per game in the month of April.

Jeff Foster -- Here's something Knicks fans, who are especially nostalgic for their 1990s teams, will like to hear about Foster: He's dirty and aggressive. It's rare to find a player nowadays who's stayed with one team his entire career, but Foster has done just that with the Pacers for 12 years. If he's finally looking for an address change, New York City would put the 34-year-old in the spotlight for the first time -- a special touch as he's approaching the finale of his NBA profession. Mostly flying under the radar because of his low point totals, Foster has established himself as a poor man's Tyson Chandler. He knows how to work the angles around the basket for easy scoring opportunities, and his constant motor on defense has enabled him to average nearly seven rebounds per game over his career.

DESPERATE MEASURES

Jared Jeffries -- The biggest credits to Jeffries' name is his ability to defend, take charges and space the floor, but he hardly offers any interior scoring. In order for Mike D'Antoni's teams to be effective, all five players on the court need to be able to put the ball in the basket. Jeffries would limit scoring opportunities for the Knicks off dishes inside and short kick-outs to 10 feet where a reliable big man should be able to knock down the shot. Jeffries is a good intangible player to use off the bench in limited minutes, but the Knicks need more from their center position in order to be effective and compete for a title this season and beyond.

Jason Collins -- While some reports have the Knicks looking at Theo Ratliff, who played for the Lakers last season, the concern is that he's 38 years old. Whereas, Collins turned 33 on Friday, and if the Knicks were paying attention, they saw that he was instrumental with his defense on D-Howard in the 2011 playoffs, helping the Hawks advance past the first round. Collins is a dirty-work scorer around the rim, he plays very physical and has a knack for taking charges and causing turnovers.

Joel Przybilla -- If it weren't for his surgically-repaired right knee, Przybilla would be in the previous category as a "next best option." Before 2010, when he missed the remainder of the season with a ruptured right patella tendon, he was averaging around five points and nine rebounds per game. Now he says he's 90 percent healthy and prepared to play more than the 36 games he did last season. Considering the Knicks' biggest woes a year ago, defense and rebounding, Przybilla should be at least on the team's free agent radar. In his 11 years in the NBA, he has made his living on rebounding and blocking shots.

FIVE WILDCARDS: Chris Wilcox, Chuck Hayes, Aaron Gray, Theo Ratliff and Erick Dampier