Former All-Stars agreeing to part ways with their teams is apparently the NBA’s latest fad.
First, Andre Drummond and the Cleveland Cavaliers chose to part, then Blake Griffin and the Detroit Pistons. Now, after more than five seasons together, LaMarcus Aldridge and the San Antonio Spurs have parted.
The writing had been on the wall for the Aldridge and the Spurs — and it showed on the court. Unfortunately, now his value is at its lowest. Benched for Jakob Poeltl, San Antonio was a minus-8.1 when the 35-year-old took the floor, per NBA.com. Much of that stemmed from Aldridge’s deficiencies on the defensive end — defense was never his forte — as the Spurs’ were plus-7.5 on that end with him on the bench. Surprisingly, Aldridge had been a negative on offense as well, with the team 0.7 points per 100 possession worse with him on the court.
The fact that Aldridge missed most of February only amplified his struggles. After he went down with a hip injury on Feb. 1, San Antonio won five of their next six, further diminishing his value. The Spurs’ chance to recoup any sort of major asset of value has long since passed, but they can still likely get something, if not immediate financial relief, for the big man in the last year of his deal. But from whom?
The knee-jerk reaction was the Boston Celtics, who can take on Aldridge’s contract with relative ease due to their Gordon Hayward trade exception. And, at least on paper, he’s a fit; his 36 percent shooting on 3.6 threes per game would make life a lot easier for Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker. They would have to shed some salary, but could Aldridge do enough to warrant the move in the first place? General manager Danny Ainge has gone on record that he doesn’t plan to use the exception on a “band-aid.”
Would Aldridge be considered more of a “band-aid” than a legitimate contributor? Likely, though Boston may yet prove a landing spot for Aldridge, just expect it to be via buyout rather than Ainge utilizing the trade exception.
The Miami HEAT may prove a more immediate (and, for the Spurs, lucrative) option. The HEAT have been linked to Aldridge since it came out that he was available. Not only do they have expiring and expendable contracts to match in Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard, but either paired with a late first or early second round draft choice would be more than a good deal for San Antonio.
That said, Miami could just as easily use those contracts as salary filler in a deal for someone better than Aldridge. Yes, Aldridge should prove an upgrade over Olynyk and Leonard but, were the HEAT to trade for him, odds are that he would be the team’s backup plan as opposed to their primary target.
Beyond Boston and Miami, it’s hard to imagine many teams trading for Aldridge the player over Aldridge the contract. While some postseason-bound rosters could make use of him on the court, more teams would love to make use of his expiring contract to clear cap space next season. But would those teams be willing to offer similar compensation to one interested in his basketball talents?
The Oklahoma City Thunder might, given their 16-21 record. The Thunder have definitely taken a from last season, but they’ve managed to remain competitive — they may not make the postseason, but they can certainly make it difficult for those that will. Perhaps a swap of centers, Aldridge-for-Al Horford, could be in order, as Horford has seen a resurgence in his first season in Oklahoma City and could certainly help the Spurs in their playoff push. Further compensation could prove interesting — would the Spurs throw in a sweetener to push a deal through? — but may ultimately prove a deal-breaker for San Antonio.
Perhaps, in a similar vein, San Antonio and Cleveland could agree to an Aldridge-Drummond swap. The Cavaliers, for lack of interest or otherwise, have yet to move the center from their bench — and a deal could seemingly benefit both parties. The Spurs get a bit younger, while some time with Gregg Popovich may prove Drummond productive yet. For Cleveland, they save some money — possibly more were they to buy Aldridge out — and gain a veteran presence and mentor to aid their young roster.
Atlanta is another intriguing option. They may not be interested in Aldgride’s services, but they would certainly take on his deal to unload some of the ill-advised contracts they handed out prior to the season. And, if push came to shove, the Spurs might try to utilize some of their own younger assets, along with the cap-clearing contract that is Aldridge, to take a swing at the disgruntled John Collins.
None of these options are perfect for either the Spurs or Aldridge. But nothing ever is; and, while neither party is likely happy as to how their relationship came to an end, parting ways would seem to be the best for both.