LaMarcus Aldridge has played his final game for the San Antonio Spurs. Head coach Gregg Popovich broke the news yesterday. In Aldridge’s sixth and final season with the Spurs, the 35-year-old averaged 13.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 25.9 minutes per game.
Why Spurs Fans Should be Thankful for LaMarcus Aldridge
Despite winning five NBA championships, the Spurs had never landed a major player in free agency until Aldridge came to town prior to the 2015-16 season. The Spurs had gotten close before (most notably Jason Kidd in 2003) but Aldridge was the first to actually ink a contract in San Antonio.
Sure, the marriage of Aldridge and the Spurs didn’t result in a sixth championship ring but, looking back on his time in San Antonio, it would be difficult to lay any of that blame on Aldridge. He was an All-Star in three of his first four seasons with the Spurs and the team won 61 games in the one season he wasn’t an All-Star during that stretch. When he arrived, he kept the championship window open for two more years and then played a pivotal role in keeping the playoff streak going in the two seasons after that.
All in all, Aldridge lived up to the lofty expectations. He didn’t return home to Texas to gently ride off into the sunset with bags of cash strapped to the saddle. He returned to Texas, maintained his All-Star form and helped bridge the impossibly wide gap caused by the inevitable decline of the Big Three. If it weren’t for Zazas and uncles, he could have possibly accomplished more than that. Alas, he did well, as it was.
Aldridge now leaves the Spurs in a relatively good spot. His position in the starting lineup is covered and the gap has been bridged to a new generation that appears capable of returning the team to the postseason. Importantly, he has said nothing bad about his time in San Antonio and doesn’t regret the decision he made in 2015. Future free agents pondering a move to South Texas no longer would have to blaze their own trail. For that, we thank you, LA.
How the Spurs Move On From LaMarcus Aldridge
While Aldridge was still a productive player, the time had come for him to be removed from the starting lineup. That’s what makes this a divorce that neither party should feel too upset about.
Aldridge’s ability to produce on the offensive end hasn’t declined much. He did what Popovich asked by shooting more three-pointers to modernize his game. While he can no longer be the focal point of a really good team, he could still easily be an above average offensive weapon on a championship level team.
Defense is where Father Time has taken its toll on Aldridge. He’s still an attentive defender who is strong enough to defend the paint, however he’s no longer capable of guarding out on the perimeter. Losing athleticism has also hurt him rebounding-wise.
The decline in Aldridge’s defense this season wouldn’t have led to his removal from the starting lineup as fast as it did if it wasn’t for the presence of Jakob Poeltl. Remove Poeltl from the equation and Aldridge was still good enough to be a starter, especially now that he’s comfortable hoisting three-pointers.
Poeltl is not and never will be the type of offensive threat that Aldridge is on a nightly basis. However, his defense has gotten so good that it’s impossible to ignore. While Aldridge struggles to defend out on the perimeter, Poeltl is elite in that area. In a league that is more perimeter-oriented than ever, that in itself is extremely valuable.
Moreover, Poeltl is fouling less than ever, while boxing out better than he ever has. His defending of the rim has oscillated between really good and spectacular. There might only be a few players in the entire league who are defending as well as he is right now.
Coming into this season, Poeltl being a long-term answer as the team’s starting center was far from a certainty. He had a history of being foul-prone as a starter and his boxing out was inconsistent at best. On the offensive end, Poeltl being a non-shooter looked to be an issue. But now that’s not much of an issue due to the fact that everyone in the rotation is shooting more three-pointers than they did last year.
With spacing no longer a pressing concern and Poeltl taking another step forward on the defensive end, it’s no accident that the Spurs have been much better with him on the court. To be exact, San Antonio is 14.5 points per 100 possessions better with Poeltl on the court than off the court. That could no longer be overlooked and it’s why Popovich made the change to make Poeltl the starter and move Aldridge to the bench.
What Will the San Antonio Spurs Do Next?
Publicly, the Spurs are saying they will trade Aldridge. There has supposedly been enough action on that front for there to be confidence that a trade will be made.
But I’m not so sure. There aren’t any obvious trades out there that make a lot of sense for both franchises. The teams that could use him most don’t have trade pieces that seamlessly fit. The trades that make sense from the Spurs perspective probably only rank as a Plan B or Plan C for the perspective of the other team.
My guess is that the Spurs try to trade Aldridge until the trade deadline. If no deal is to be had, then they will negotiate a contract buyout. San Antonio is reportedly hopeful that something could happen within the week but I see it stretching out until the March 25th deadline for trades.
In the next few days, we’ll start speculating on possible trades involving Aldridge. Stay tuned.