Not too long ago, LaMarcus Aldridge expressed interest in reuniting with his former club, the Portland Trail Blazers, and teaming up with Damian Lillard one more time. This has triggered mixed responses from Blazers fans (likely depending on how disgruntled one was/still is about his departure), but former Spurs beat writer Jabari Young (and basically self-proclaimed expert on always having the pulse of the players) believes it will happen someday.
LaMarcus Aldridge has said he could envision himself playing with Damian Lillard again. Could it happen via a reunion in Portland? Spurs insider @JabariJYoung thinks so.— NBC Sports Northwest (@NBCSNorthwest) July 15, 2019
"I think at the end of the day, someway, somehow, LaMarcus will be back in Portland."#RipCity pic.twitter.com/sHRARysN4E
This isn’t the first time this topic has come up, but it has rarely triggered much response from Spurs fans, and there’s a logical explanation behind that. It’s probably safe to assume most would not be surprised if Aldridge does finish out his NBA days where it all began, and should he do so the timing of his departure would fall at an ideal spot on the Spurs’ current “rebuilding while staying competitive” timeline.
(This is probably a good place to say don’t get me wrong: I’m not advocating for him to leave and would be happy to keep him for the right price, but if he does depart, the Spurs appear prepared to deal with it.)
Aldridge has 2 years, $50 million left on his contract. $7 million of the $24 million owed to him in 2020-21 are guaranteed until June 29, 2020, meaning if he is waived on or before that date, that $7 million will count against the cap for the Spurs the following season. If he isn’t waived, he becomes fully guaranteed for the 2020-21 season before becoming an unrestricted free agent.
Just letting him walk for nothing in return may not seem ideal or in line with today’s NBA, but there are reasons why the possibility of him moving on then is not as horrific as it would be today, even though he has been the Spurs’ best player for the last two seasons and arguably the biggest reason they have continued their record playoff run.
When the 2021 offseason rolls around, Aldridge will pushing 36-years-old. Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan (assuming he opts into the final year of his contract next summer) will be free agents, and the Spurs may be ready go full steam ahead with the youth movement they are quietly running in the shadow of their Mid 3. Luka Samanic will be a third-year player by then, and if he (or someone else) is ready to step into Aldridge’s role of starting PF/C (hopefully without much drop off), it’s easy to see the Spurs letting Aldridge do what he desires at that point without too much resistance either way.
They’re already going to have to find a way to pay Dejounte Murray (at this point it’s a safe assumption he wants to stay) and possibly Jakob Poeltl next summer. In 2021, they’ll have decisions to make with Derrick White and possibly Lonnie Walker IV, depending on what is done with his 3rd and 4th-year rookie options. It’s hard to say if they’ll be able to keep all those players regardless (not to mention the deep trio they drafted this summer), but it will be difficult if the aging vets are still getting paid by then. (There’s a reason the way the Spurs structured their deals this summer was so brilliant, even if it goes underappreciated.)
The reality is it would not be in the Spurs’ best interest from a salary cap and competitive standpoint to waive or trade Aldridge at any point during the next two seasons (he also has 15% trade kicker), but rather just take advantage of the guaranteed time they have left before moving on to the young core they are currently constructing. Or Aldridge could just re-sign here for a reasonable amount. That would work too, as long as the Spurs don’t Pau Gasol themselves.
What do you think, Pounders? Will Aldridge eventually leave the Spurs, and of so when will it happen, and how would you feel? Feel free to discuss below.