The inevitable has happened. Trade rumors surrounding LaMarcus Aldridge have started. The Spurs are reportedly willing to move the seven-time All-Star and have made it known, according to ESPN’s Marc Spears.
Aldridge has missed a substantial part of the season with injury and came off the bench in his return on Thursday. In the meantime, Jakob Poeltl established himself as the type of dynamic defensive player the team needed down low. It’s not surprising that San Antonio seems ready to move on from Aldridge, and it would be understandable if the big man wanted a change of scenery as well in the last year of his contract.
Unfortunately finding the right trade could prove to be a tall task. While Aldridge is still talented and the Spurs are probably not expecting a great return for him, there are several reasons why finding a transaction that works could be hard.
The first issue is that the same limitations that make Aldridge expendable for the Spurs would make him an unattractive target for other teams. Offensively, he’s still able to contribute as a scorer and his solid outside shooting could make him a decent floor-stretching center, but on the other end, Aldridge doesn’t seem to have what it takes to be a starter anymore. The Spurs have been a disaster on defense with Aldridge on the floor for a while now, which is not surprising considering his deteriorating athleticism. At this point he can’t defend away from the paint but, most worryingly, also can’t seem to protect the rim at a high level. Even in ultra conservative schemes that have the big parked under the rim, LMA could struggle.
Aldridge could help as a bench big who punishes second units down low, but he’s not paid like that type of player, which could complicate things. The NBA requires trades to have teams sending out a similar amount of salary that they take in, so making a trade work would require a franchise to either package several players or move a highly paid one. It’s unlikely that the first scenario happens, since it would be a logistical nightmare to accommodate it from the Spurs’ side. San Antonio has only one roster spot available and is close to the tax line so on, say, a four-for-one trade, they would have to waive two players to make room for the arriving ones, potentially adding dead money to the books. That’s something you do if the return is good, not for salary filler. Similarly, there are big salary players that could make a trade easy to make, but are likely ones that have under performed their contracts and don’t hold much appeal.
As examples, let’s consider a trade to the Heat, which have been reportedly interested in Aldridge. Miami could easily match salaries by sending out Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard to San Antonio, but that trade wouldn’t make much sense for the Spurs, unless they just want to simply get rid of Aldridge. Would the Heat include someone like KZ Okpala in the transaction? Probably not unless the Spurs also include a sweetener, since it would be for a rental. What about if the Trail Blazers want Aldridge back? They don’t have the players to match salaries unless they move one of their starters, which is not going to happen. It’s simply not easy to find trades that work in which the other team doesn’t give up too much but the Spurs get enough back to pull the trigger.
That being said, all the Spurs would need is one desperate franchise willing to overpay to get a deal done. Unfortunately, that’s unlikely to happen in the current climate in which veteran centers have flooded the market. Why throw a couple of second rounders or a young player in the mix for Aldridge when teams can get DeMarcus Cousins for free? Blake Griffin, Al Horford and Andre Drummond are also on the block. Only Drummond is on an expiring contract like Aldridge, but it would only take one general manager who thinks the other two have something left in the tank to commit to one extra season. If none of those options appear appealing, someone could just grab Hassan Whiteside for cheap to be their backup center. And if a team is willing to take a big chance, Kristaps Porzingis should be their man.
Aldridge’s high salary and deteriorating skills would make him tough to trade even in a non-flooded market, but in the current environment it’s even more complicated. Unless a general manager values LMA almost irrationally, a trade that truly helps San Antonio is unlikely. The Spurs could simply take a deal that doesn’t bring much in return just to let Aldridge goes somewhere else, if that’s what he wants, which could be acceptable. They could also hold on for a while longer, hoping Aldridge has enough good games between now and the trade deadline to separate himself from the pack, which could potentially happen. If nothing else works, having him around until the end of the season wouldn’t be the worst thing, as long as he accepts a smaller role, possibly as a bench player.
None of those options are particularly appealing, of course, but they are not terrible either. The end of the LaMarcus Aldridge era in Spurs basketball seems to be approaching an unexciting end, which is fine. Whether it comes via trade in the next month or free agency in the offseason, there should be no resentment either way. Hopefully the resolution will be painless and help both parties in some way.