Blockbuster news hit the NBA today as Greg Popovich announced that the San Antonio Spurs would be parting ways with veteran big LaMarcus Aldridge, allowing the former star to seek greener pastures. As soon as the proclamation was made, Portland Trail Blazers fans exploded with excitement. They grieved when Aldridge—then a superstar—left the team in free agency in 2015. The prospects of a storybook return tantalize. Will the move really work, though? Let’s go to the Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
Dave Dave Dave!
Reunite Dame and LMA right now! The Spurs are dumping him. Tell me he’s coming home and tell me how much better the team will be with him on it! Jump on this Dave!
First of all, you have to ask if the Blazers can get him. The Spurs aren’t talking about a buyout, which would make Aldridge available for a minimum contract. They’re looking at a trade. Aldridge is in the last year of a contract worth $24 million this season. The Blazers would need to balance out salaries to make that work.
Rodney Hood carries a $10 million deal. That’s not near enough to do it. The Blazers could throw in Zach Collins for $5 million more, but that still leaves them at least $5 million short. More like $11 million if they don’t want to incur luxury tax penalties with the move.
Jusuf Nurkic, Robert Covington, Derrick Jones, Jr., Enes Kanter, and the young players are the other assets on the roster who could make the deal happen, singly or in combination. Adding one more of them to the trade—either with or in place of Collins—makes it unrealistic. Unless Portland is trading CJ McCollum straight up in the world’s most improbable salary dump, there’s no sensible way to get the deal done.
But let’s dream that Aldridge gets waived or bought out and comes onto the market with a minimum-salary price tag attached. Financially, this would work for the Blazers. They could take him on and remain just under the luxury tax threshold.
In that scenario, the question becomes, what are they going to do with him? The nostalgia factor is obvious. On paper, Aldridge provides extra depth. But that’s where it ends.
Aldridge has played center almost exclusively for the Spurs for the last three years. He’d slot in behind Kanter. But Jusuf Nurkic is returning and Kanter can’t be benched completely at this point, meaning Aldridge would be a player without a position.
We could pray for a return of mobility, allowing Aldridge to play power forward, but he doesn’t fit much better there. He’s not going to displace Robert Covington in the starting lineup. Whether he should crowd out Carmelo Anthony is an open question.
Anthony’s joys and trials have been well-chronicled this year, but he’s shooting .413 from the field, .387 from the arc, and scoring 19.5 points per 36 minutes. Aldridge shoots a much better .464 from the field, but that’s nearly a career low. He’s shooting .360 from the all-important three-point arc, averaging fewer attempts than Anthony. LMA is also averaging 19.3 points per 36 minutes, a deadlock with Carmelo. Aldridge’s rebounds per 36 is higher than Anthony’s, but Carmelo gets more steals. The blocks and assists are a wash.
Anthony doesn’t play great defense, but neither does Aldridge. Carmelo is mobile enough to get out to the three-point arc on defense. That’s not Aldridge’s thing.
Realistically, the Blazers wouldn’t be much better off with Aldridge taking the back-up power forward minutes from Anthony; in some ways they’d be worse. They’d be doubling up on players with similar arcs, doubling down on their weaknesses. The two veterans would be fighting for minutes that they already assume they should be exceeding, given their histories and talents. It’s not a happy scenario.
Presuming Nurkic does return this year, other than the nostalgia factor—and that lasts about three games, usually—I can’t think of one compelling reason to bring Aldridge back to Portland. Not only are there better moves, no move at all might be just as effective.