Hey guys, guess what? While you were celebrating the Fourth of July the Spurs got LaMarcus Aldridge to agree to a four-year contract. No, I swear, I'm not making this up. It probably just escaped your notice because of the holiday, but here's the link and everything. So here's a list of ten neat things about having Aldridge on the Spurs because I like making lists and ten is a nice round number.
1. When you root for the Spurs, you can sign a LaMarcus Aldridge and seriously argue he's your fourth-most important free agent signing of the off-season.
In fact, I argued just that the other day, though your rankings may vary.* I don't think there'd be too much debate here that keeping Kawhi Leonard was paramount above all because of his age, what he's already accomplished in Spurs colors and his two-way game. Beyond that though I may in the minority in my valuation for Danny Green and my respect for Tim Duncan's overall game, even at age 39.
It's impossible to overstate how strongly I felt that the Spurs had to keep Green. I think he and Leonard make each other better on defense. Together they're more than the sum of their individual parts. Green checks some of the guys Leonard can't and vice versa, and they also give each other breaks on defense. Also, Green provides an extra dimension with his extraordinary transition defense and his quicksilver stroke from deep. No shooter outside of that little fella in Oakland needs less room to get one off. My position has consistently been that having to sacrifice Green to sign Aldridge would've brought diminishing returns. Now we don't need to worry about that.
Duncan, meanwhile, was still the second, perhaps third at worst, most valuable all around big man in the league last year, after Anthony Davis and perhaps Marc Gasol. If we're just talking about the 2015-16 season and I have to pick between him and Aldridge to make the Spurs better, I'm picking Duncan without blinking.
For the record, the Real-Adjusted Plus-Minus and Wins Above Replacement numbers agree with me. Leonard ranked fifth, Green 12th and Duncan 13th in RPM, while Aldridge was 25th last season. In WAR, Leonard ranked eighth, Green 15th, Duncan 19th and Aldridge 22nd.
On many teams acquiring a LaMarcus Aldridge would instantly mean that he becomes the new best player on that team. And there is a chance that may well be the case with the Spurs as well. He's certainly being paid to be that. But there's also a realistic scenario where Aldridge finishes as the fourth-most valuable Spur next season. And if he does, it wouldn't even necessarily be disappointing!
That, to me, is a helluva thing.
*(Personally, Aldridge would be my fifth-most important signing, though again, your mileage may vary.)
2. The signing restores our faith in PATFO.
Admit it, for a minute there things were getting dicey. The Spurs traded Tiago Splitter to the Hawks in the opening hours of free agency, seemingly with no guarantees that Aldridge was sold on them. Now, I'm the cynical, conspiratorial type. I just can't wrap my head around the notion that PATFO would've gambled on losing Splitter for nothing, no matter how the principals will insist that was the case. My personal theory is that the Spurs had a wink-wink deal with Aldridge for weeks if not months but both sides agreed to make a show of playing the field for a couple of days to avoid any troublesome tampering accusations.
I mean think about it logically. Do you really think the R.C. Buford woke up on the morning of July 1 and said, "Hmm, I've gotta unload Splitter's contract, but how? Oh I know, I'll give my pal Bud a call."
It sounds silly right? And naive, for two teams to negotiate and arrange such an important trade so hastily, with no discussion beforehand. In reality general managers, players and agents are in constant communication throughout the season and off-season. Most of them have the common sense to not leak stuff to the media.
You can think of Pop and R.C. as riverboat gamblers if you want, and I'm sure it's a yarn that they'll want to spin for narrative, but I just can't go there with you.
Besides, it's more fun to think of Pop telling Aldridge to tease the Lakers and Suns just to twist the dagger a bit with those two franchises. Really, the Suns? I never bought that for a second. Why would Aldridge leave the Blazers for a worse team for less money? That made zero sense.
3. The signing restores our faith in Pop, Duncan and the Spurs way.
It goes without saying that losing out on Jason Kidd in 2004 was the best hidden blessing in Spurs history. They probably would've had to let Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili go, if not both, to afford both Kidd and Duncan. I don't think Pop really embraced his foreign backcourt as the team's future until Kidd spurned him.
The thing is though, for good or ill, Kidd did pass on the Spurs. Since then both Pop's and Duncan's reputation among their peers has grown tenfold. Everyone in the league, even LeBron James, gushes when talking about "the Spurs way."
Actions speak louder than words. If the Spurs couldn't sign Aldridge, a native Texan who went to school an hour up the road, with Duncan as his idol, with Pop as the coach he respects above all, with max cap space to offer and a 23-year-old Leonard as a bona fide second-banana welcoming him, then man, they were never going to sign a premiere free agent, ever. It was the perfect marriage of job opening and prospective employee. The Spurs had to sign Aldridge, just for organizational peace of mind that the brand they've spent two decades building has some tangible value outside of their building. Now it's been confirmed. We now have evidence that such a thing is possible and it can inform our expectations going forward. Hoping to sign the next LaMarcus Aldridge doesn't sound silly or homer-ish anymore.
4. The Spurs are no longer a "small-market" team.
If the Spurs can draw the fourth-biggest free agent in the market and a future Hall-of-Famer in Aldridge, then we have to retire the notion that they're an "under-the-radar small-market" team. It's just not the case any longer. They have arguably the best starting lineup in the league and definitely the best front line. ESPN.com's Kevin Pelton is already projecting them to win 66 games with a 10-point scoring differential. (No pressure fellas.) They've overtaken the champion Warriors as the favorites to come out of the West, according to Las Vegas oddsmakers. The Spurs will be a compelling, nationally-scrutinized team now, whether they like it or not. They may not get "The Heat Index" treatment, but don't be surprised if the powers that be at "The Worldwide Leader" see fit to place an entrenched reporter here for daily reports next year.
You don't care about the media stuff though, and you shouldn't. The important on-the-court part of this is that acquiring Aldridge should now make the Spurs a draw for veterans willing to play for the minimum to chase a ring. Usually whatever team James is on gets all those guys, but the Spurs might be able to snag a couple this time around.
My hunch is the Spurs will be "a thing," this season, if for no other reason than the Warriors play too many of their games too darn late.
5. Aldridge's game is compatible with Duncan's.
Splitter and Duncan had good defensive chemistry together, but offensively the fit was often clunky, due to Splitter's limited range. With Aldridge that's not an issue. The two of them can alternate between the high post and the low post and both are adept at passing from anywhere, so it'll give opponents fits. Splitter was limited and rarely if ever drew the other team's best defender. Aldridge always draws those guys. Now Duncan will get to feast on lesser defensive bigs and neither guy will have to worry about double-teams. It's going to be a hell of a thing.
Defensively Aldridge still has enough juice in his legs to guard people out on the floor in small-ball lineups or to hedge and switch up high. He'll save Duncan some wear and tear in that regard.
6. It's going to energize Duncan, Pop and Manu, if he returns.
Too often last season the Spurs went through the motions. They just couldn't bring the appropriate fear night after night after slaying their demons in 2014. They blew a lot of winnable games throughout the season, which led to not having home court in the first round, which led to... well you know the rest. Popovich spoke of the team's physical and mental fatigue in his season postmortem.
With Aldridge though, there should be a palpable buzz in training camp, in preseason and throughout the dog-days of January and February. Everyone is excited by the fresh and new. That's the downside of continuity, eventually people get just bored of one another and apathetic. Now there'll be plenty of fresh faces looking for jewelry. My educated guess is that Duncan and Ginobili needed the nudge of Aldridge's signing to inspire them to play on. Remember, Ginobili wrote about Popovich telling them his "plan" during exit meetings. Now Duncan is on board and Manu is likely to return.
Then there's this...
ESPN sources say that Gregg Popovich, as of now, is intent on coaching out his entire five-year contract that he signed last summer
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 4, 2015
If Aldridge indeed inspired Pop, Duncan and Ginobili to keep this going, then he's already worth every penny of not my money.
7. We don't have to worry about Duncan passing the torch anymore.
I liked Tiago Splitter. If the thought ever crossed your mind, "You know, I don't think Erler is too fond of Splitter," then I'm here to tell you that you are wrong. I will miss the big dunk and will always look back on his time here fondly.
For real though, Splitter wasn't that guy. He was never expected to be that guy. He was a role player, albeit a very good one. Aldridge though is a legit star and someone who's still young enough for us to put off worrying about ping-pong balls for a few years yet. A franchise-transforming big comes around once every five years or so. The odds of acquiring one then is somewhere between 90/1 and 150/1. It's more organic to do it through the draft, but also practically impossible. I'm fine with putting it off in the "to do" pile if you are, though if the Timberwolves want to offer Karl-Anthony Towns for Aldridge and Kyle Anderson I'd listen.
8. It'll ease the pressure on Leonard to be "the man."
We got a taste of what Leonard being the alpha dog in the playoffs would look like last season and it turned our tongue green for a week. I'm not saying he can't ever flip that around. I personally feel it was an anomaly. Still, I feel a lot better about him having a legit star alongside him as a first option or a 1-A. Also, you might not have picked up on the subtle cues, but Leonard really isn't wild about media commitments and marketing and all that. Aldridge reportedly soured on the Blazers because he felt he wasn't promoted enough. This should be a win-win. There will be no shortage of people here eager to point a camera at Aldridge if that's what he wants.
And I'm a lot more psyched about the idea of a mid-30's Parker as a third/fourth option than I was of him as a second/third option. Let the wee Frenchman age gracefully.
9. We have a star for SEGABABAs.
I imagine Pop will feel the need to give Duncan some games off here and there. He's shown an inclination to do that in the past. When he does it this year though, the Spurs will still have LaMarcus Freakin' Aldridge on the floor.
10. I'm really, really looking forward to basketball season again.
Didn't think I'd feel that way in early July. Should be interesting and maybe even fun to cover the "it" team. In retrospect I'm glad I got a blah year under my belt. Next year is going to be insane.