Prior to the Spurs-Mavericks contest Wednesday night, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich dropped a bomb: LaMarcus Aldridge and the franchise have agreed to part ways, and are actively pursuing trade destinations.
In Aldridge’s five and a half seasons with the Spurs, he was the bedrock of their frontcourt, averaging 19.5 points and eight rebounds. Aldridge showed he had the versatility to play the power forward next to Tim Duncan as well as center after Duncan retired.
The 35-year-old Aldridge has had one of the worst statistical seasons of his career thus far, averaging just 13.7 points and 4.5 rebounds. He’s also missed eight games with hip and quadriceps ailments.
At this stage of his career, Aldridge is going to have to accept that he’s a full-time center — an idea he’s warmed up to in recent seasons — who will potentially have to come off the bench.
While Aldridge's Spurs days are over, he can still contribute to a playoff contender. But which team is his best fit?
5. Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets have been a delight to watch this season after adding Gordon Hayward and LaMelo Ball, two players who emphasize ball movement. The Hornets currently sit at seventh place in the Eastern Conference, an impressive feat considering their frontcourt rotation has consisted of Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo.
Zeller and Biyombo are both sound rebounders who set rock-solid picks, but they have their limitations. Neither player can space the floor, and they both struggle to defend in space. Aldridge is no better as a perimeter defender, but at least he adds a floor-spacing element to a squad that has not had that from the frontcourt position.
4. Phoenix Suns
Chris Paul has done it again, folks. Since the Point God joined the Suns, they currently sit at the second spot in the Western Conference with a 24-11 record. Phoenix is middle of the pack in three-pointers attempted, and they also play at the 29th slowest pace in the league. Aldridge fits in comfortably considering he can help drain threes from the big-man position, something DeAndre Ayton does not do.
Aldridge also prefers to play at a slow pace, so unlike his final Spurs seasons, there should be no clash of styles in Phoenix.
In the playoffs, the pace slows down and it becomes a game in which getting one-on-one buckets is imperative when all the other cute off-ball actions and pick-and-rolls are stripped away.
Ayton is developing fine, but the Suns have championship expectations, and they can’t afford to hope he’s ready by the playoffs.
Trading for Aldridge would be a smart hedge because banking on a veteran big man who is ready for the bright lights and fits snugly into your team identity is simply smart business.
3. Miami Heat
The Heat are mentioned as a potential suitor for every player who becomes available, but Aldridge could really help them come playoff time.
Miami is currently relying on Precious Achiuwa to backup Bam Adebayo, and while the raw rookie big man looks like he’s going to be a good player one day, Miami is in win-now mode. Aldridge can come off the bench for 20 minutes per game and provide scoring for a Heat team that ranks 25th in offensive efficiency.
Adding Aldridge to this Heat squad would make them very reliant on four players over 30, but if everyone can stay on the court, no one is going to want to play a grizzled Heat team.
2. Portland Trail Blazers
Well, wouldn’t this be a warm homecoming? For the uninitiated, Aldridge — who was drafted second overall by the Blazers in the 2006 NBA Draft — bounced from Portland in the summer of 2015 and left behind a few sour feelings. He was reportedly not a fan of Damian Lillard’s increasing leadership responsibilities and clearly decided to spread his wings elsewhere. But their relationship is in a much better place now.
“We’ve fixed our relationship,” Aldridge said about Lillard in a 2019 interview with the Athletic. “It wasn’t us, it was the people around us.”
The Blazers could use what Aldridge brings to the table. Their current big-man rotation has a lot of options but is very flawed. Jusuf Nurkic is their best option, but he’s rarely healthy and doesn’t space the floor consistently. Enes Kanter is a fine post-up brute, and while he’s tightened up his pick-and-roll defense, he’s still a minus in that category. Zach Collins has shown promise as a playmaking rebounder who can hit enough threes to keep defenses honest, but the poor guy spends more time on the injury report than the court. And finally, there’s Carmelo Anthony, who can still get a bucket when called upon.
Aldridge would provide an interior defensive upgrade over Kanter and Anthony. Aldridge could also help Damian Lillard in the pick-and-roll game by stretching the defense out from deep, which gives Dame more room to operate. Aldridge’s ability to hit contested jumpers where the defender is literally face-guarding him is rare, and it’s a valuable commodity in the playoffs.
1. Boston Celtics
There’s no denying this has been an underwhelming season in Boston. Their depth has crumbled to dust. They play too many mistake-prone young players and rely heavily on consistent minutes from journeymen. But other than depth, perhaps their biggest weakness has been a lack of scoring at the center position.
While the Celtics rotate three different centers who all offer different skill sets, they are still looking for a big upgrade. Daniel Theis is efficient, Tristan Thompson is still a great rebounder and Robert Williams is blossoming into a destructive defensive force and rim runner. But none of those players inspire enough fear on offense.
That is where Aldridge comes in.
Aldridge has always been money from midrange, and he finally expanded his jumper to the three-point arc, hitting 39%. And while post-ups are slightly out of fashion these days, they grow more important in the postseason.
Over the past two seasons, Aldridge has produced about one point per possession on post-ups, good for the league’s 70th percentile.
If Boston strikes out on their other targets, they should set their eyes on Aldridge.
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