So far, we've looked at some free agent point guards, the shooting guards, and, most recently, the small forwards. All those perimeter guys are nice and cute, but the premiere fellows of the free agent class are bigs, it is known. J. Gomez and I spent several hours debating the merits of keeping versus jettisoning the phalanx of Spurs free agents --you can find them all here-- and included in that was a discussion on Matt Bonner and Jeff Ayres (Spoiler alert: No and Hell No).
Then there's Tim Duncan, the GOAT PUFF. He's also a free agent, and while there is no worry about him ditching the Spurs for a sexier squad, there is a very legitimate concern that the 39-year-old just may hang 'em up and elect to chill in St. Croix for a year or six while contemplating his next career. It goes without saying that the Spurs would be better off if Duncan returns for another year --he's still the best two-way big in the league, after all-- and besides, if he retires then it's a mortal lock that Manu Ginobili will too, and that would be the polar opposite of awesome.
To the free agents, then! All salary information comes to us via HoopsHype.com.
Last Team: Blazers
2014-15 Salary: $15,200,000
There has been a lot of speculation in these parts about Aldridge, and some of it not even fueled by us. ESPN.com's Marc Stein is credible, right? His reporting suggests that Aldridge is legitimately considering leaving the Blazers and that the top two suitors for the Dallas native are the Spurs and Mavericks. The thought of Duncan and Aldridge playing alongside one another is enough to send chills down your spine even in June, even though, as I pointed out here, it's next to impossible because of salary cap reasons and would leave the Spurs thinner on the bench than the Clippers. They'd have to renounce all of their free agents, lose Danny Green or trade Tiago Splitter, and possibly trade Patty Mills as well. The bench would be five guys from the D-League you've never heard of.
Now, if Duncan does elect to retire, then Aldridge gets decidedly more interesting. Not because it would open up any more cap room, but because it's hard to see them even remotely contending without another superduperstar to replace Duncan. They'd still have to trade Splitter or lose Green to make it work, but Aldridge, Leonard, Green, Tony Parker and Boris Diaw is a solid starting five and from there you trust PATFO to find a bench when the cap shoots up in 2016.
The concern for me is what Aldridge is worth in the long term. He's going to turn 30 two weeks into the season. Do you really want to sign him to a deal where he'll be paid over $30 million in his age 34 season? No matter how much the cap increases, it would put the Spurs in a situation where he and Leonard would be getting half of that pie just by themselves, and then Parker (and perhaps Green and/or Splitter) would be getting healthy slices as well. I'm not sure the Spurs can build a deep team that's good enough to win with Leonard as their second-highest paid guy going forward. He kind of has to be the alpha, doesn't he? I think they have to find their next star organically, the way they have all the others.
Aldridge is coming off the best overall season of his career, and it's certainly a positive that he's extended his range out to the three-point line, hitting a respectable 35.2 percent on 105 attempts last year, while also leading the league in two-point attempts for the third straight season, a testament to his durability. The thing is, you have to get a center to play with him as he doesn't want to play it. The Spurs may well have to pick Splitter over Green just to appease him. Aldridge is not much of a shot blocker, but he defended surprisingly well at the rim last season, holding foes to 45.1 percent according to NBA.com's player tracking tool, and faring even better than that in the playoffs against Memphis.
Maybe Marc Gasol would be a better fit after all. The Spurs would have to make fewer roster adjustments around him.
Last Team: Hawks
2014-15 Salary: $9,500,000
The Hawks signed Millsap to a sweetheart two-year, $19 million contract as a free agent two years ago, but it's time to pay the reaper. He's not quite a max guy, a bit undersized and a so-so defender, but as a stretch four Millsap has been remarkably consistent, shooting 35.8 percent from downtown in 2014 and 35.6 last year. His PER has been steady as well, between 19.8 and 21.8 the past five seasons. Millsap is an underrated passer and posts eye-popping box score stats when it comes to steals and blocks, but he's the opposite of Aldridge in that he's atrocious defending down low, allowing 55.0 percent to opponents. Unlike LMA, there's no question that you need another big to play alongside him.
I'd love to see Millsap play next to Duncan for a year, but at his age this next contract will be his one chance to really cash in after being underpaid throughout his career. He's let it be known that he feels at home in Atlanta and the Hawks and they can offer him more than anyone else, so it's a long shot he'll sign elsewhere.
Last Team: Lakers
2014-15 Salary: $981,084
Instead of chasing and overpaying 30-year-old stars to pair with Leonard, the better, smarter option might be to rebuild around him by going younger. Davis has a players option with the Lakers at $1.1 million and he's certainly going to opt out of it because plenty of suitors will come calling for a guy who averaged 12.8 points and 11.7 rebounds per-36 minutes on 60 percent shooting. It was surprising that both the Raptors and the Grizzlies gave up on Davis so early on in his career, but the Lakers might very well join them if they can snag a big fish like Kevin Love in free agency. Remember, they already have Julius Randle, last year's lottery pick who was lost for the season very early on last year, and they figure to draft another big with the second pick later this month. Davis, 6'10, is another guy who's shaky in his own end (opponents shot 53.9 percent at the rim against him) but it's not like he played with anyone worth a damn.
Davis is more of a traditional power forward in that he's attempted one three-pointer in his career and only 3.6 percent of his field goal attempts came from outside of 10 feet last season. 71.4 percent of his shots came at the rim, which explains his lofty shooting percentage. He's not a shot blocker either, but he does gobble up rebounds on both ends of the floor. I'm curious just how much he'll get on the open market, since he's basically a poor man's Tristan Thompson, but why not pair him in another superstar three in Leonard?
Last Team: Pacers
2014-15 Salary: $11,041,037
Oh, don't act like you didn't know this was coming.
Scola doesn't have much time left in the NBA, he's best pals with Ginobili and has long admired Duncan from afar. Why not a return of the prodigal son for the former Spurs draft pick? Obviously San Antonio wouldn't have much interest in "Luifa" at his previous salary, but for a short deal at the Mid-Level Exception or something less, there might be mutual interest. Scola could pair with Ginobili in the second unit and he can still stroke that 18-footer. He had a bit of a resurgence last year for a starless Pacers squad after a down 2014 campaign and might have one last run in him, playing for a contender.
Feel free to tell me how wrong I am for missing someone on HoopsHype's list.