Admittedly, news that the NBA is officially eliminating the center position on its All-Star Game balloting strikes a sour note. Obviously the position is at a low-water mark, but there’s something about just throwing it out of the house that brings home how inconsequential having a big man is in today’s game. Back when Shaq said he was the “Last Center Left,” half the people just thought it was hyperbole. But he was right. You can count the number of legit centers in the game on one hand (do it with me right now—Howard, Bynum, Hibbert, Marc Gasol and Perkins). Looking at the upcoming youngsters, I don’t see how that changes any time soon.
At the same time, I’m not gonna launch into a diatribe lamenting how the loss of NBA centers is destroying the legitimacy of the league. Teams have proven, over the last several years, that the lack of a dominating big man — or even a "respectably solid double-rebound" dude — has no bearing on their championship aspirations. That’s why Dwyane Wade’s recent humblebrag about the Heat and their lack of reliable girth is such a curious statement.
From Fox Sports South:
“Yeah, we have weaknesses. We're not the biggest team in the league. It's a glaring weakness and so we got a weakness. We're not going to come out and we're not going to say this big guy is going to get 14 rebounds a game. We have to rebound collectively as a team. So, obviously, that's a weakness for us. But it's also a strength for us because at the other end of the floor, when the ball gets off the rim, we're able to use our speed."
The demise of the center position has become so common in the NBA that it no longer even elicits outrage, and the fact that the Heat just won a championship illustrates how futile of a concern it is. Talented big guys in the prep ranks aren’t taught back-to-the-basket moves anymore. They go to college and refine whatever wing specifics their coaches have drilled into their heads. Then these same players are rewarded come NBA Draft time for their versatility — not their big man fundamentals. There isn’t a penalty for lack of rebounding anymore either, so players don’t underline it. Teams want guys to put the rock on the floor, hit jumpers from the wing and play as uptempo a style as they can muster.
This is exactly what the Heat did last year when Bosh became their full-time center once it became apparent to Eric Spoelstra that Joel Anthony just wasn’t built to be a prime-time player. The Heat are better equipped than most teams, of course, so Wade’s comments could be nothing more than a Jedi Mind Trick on the rest of the NBA.
At any rate, the pendulum might swing back, at some point. Until then, let's not shed a tear about it. The NBA is gonna be fine.