LaMarcus Aldridge was rumored to want out from the San Antonio Spurs. He may not get traded, but could the 2017-18 season be his last with the organization?
In the 2015 NBA offseason, the San Antonio Spurs signed LaMarcus Aldridge to a four-year, $84 million deal. It was the first time he switched teams since the Portland Trail Blazers traded up and selected him in the 2006 NBA Draft.
For the past two seasons, Aldridge’s numbers decreased. It came in fewer minutes per game (31.5 minutes with the Spurs; 35.5 minutes with Portland), but the playoffs saw the most disappointing part of his time in San Antonio. His 16.5 points and 7.4 rebounds don’t look bad on paper, but for his career numbers and Kawhi Leonard’s injury in the Western Conference Finals, it’s a disappointment.
About three weeks after the Spurs’ 2016-17 season ended, Aldridge’s name was mentioned in trade rumors. The organization wanted a top pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, but the selection show came and went and nothing happened.
After team executive RC Buford put down the speculation, Aldridge never got rumored in a deal for the rest of the offseason, including the chaotic start of NBA free agency.
Despite this, the 2017-18 season may be Aldridge’s last in San Antonio. He has a player option of $22 million for the 2018-19 season, so he can depart next summer for a longer deal, whether that’s to stay with the Spurs or go elsewhere.
If Aldridge leaves in 11 months, there could be a few reasons for it. None of them are rumored or confirmed, but only speculation. Let’s look at what this could be.
Next: A fresh start
5. A fresh start
As noted, LaMarcus Aldridge’s time with the San Antonio Spurs hasn’t been perfect. The rumors and disappointing play made things trend in the wrong direction, and while nothing about his status got confirmed in the offseason, it may be time for a fresh start after the 2017-18 season.
Aldridge can head somewhere that he’ll have less responsibility, potentially as a team’s third or fourth option. He’s the Spurs’ second option, with the current incarnation of the team. That may be better for him as he ages and starts to see a sharper decline in play.
Of course, the Texas product can go to another organization and be their primary option, if they feel he can do this. If not, then an equal player to the team’s main scorer already in place. Given where he’s at in his career, this could be for one of the NBA’s weaker teams.
This is something no one will know until after the 2017-18 season to see what Aldridge prefers. He could leave to be part of a different contender and fill a role, or take a larger part of a team that may not be anything special in a year from now. What will he want to do?
Next: Playoff disappointment
4. The Spurs disappoint in the playoffs
LaMarcus Aldridge hasn’t won a NBA championship in his 11 NBA seasons. At age 32, he has time but, at any point, the window can run out, due to injury or a decline in play.
For Aldridge’s first two seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, he’s failed to make the NBA Finals. His closest attempt came in the 2017 Western Conference Finals, which saw the Golden State Warriors sweep the series after Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard went down.
This marked a playoff disappointment for the Spurs, who are expected to compete every season. It’s about getting past the Warriors, however, something every Western Conference team will strive for. So, if the Spurs fail to do this in the 2018 playoffs, will Aldridge move to another team to be competitive?
Something similar happened in the 2017 offseason, when Chris Paul left the Los Angeles Clippers and got traded to the Houston Rockets. He made this lateral Western Conference move to join a fellow superstar (James Harden) and a team that has competitive pieces in place. Aldridge can do something almost identical and leave for a team that was quality in the 2017-18 season.
This isn’t indicative of San Antonio’s ability to be competitive in the 2018-19 season, but if Aldridge thinks he can do better elsewhere, will this be his last go-around in the Alamo City?
Next: Disagreements with Popovich
3. Disagreements with Gregg Popovich
In the 2017 playoffs, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich called out LaMarcus Aldridge after Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. According to Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated, Popovich said “LaMarcus has got to score for us. He can’t be timid. He turned down shots… He’s got a major responsibility in Game 3.” This was while the Spurs were down 2-0 to the Golden State Warriors.
Aldridge’s performance led to these comments, as he had just 8 points and 4 rebounds on 3 turnovers. He scored 28 points in Game 1, but combined for just 34 points in the rest of the Western Conference Finals.
Then came this awkward press conference moment with Popovich. He was asked if he got what he wanted out of Aldridge, to which he said “sure.” That doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement for the Spurs’ second-best player.
Is it possible there was already a rift between Popovich and Aldridge? This doesn’t guarantee that there was, but comments like these won’t help the relationship between the coach and player. If Aldridge didn’t take kindly to them, did it contribute to him wanting out of San Antonio?
Given the direction of this offseason, it seems Popovich and Aldridge will get at least one more season together. If things don’t work out, then a change of scenery may be in place for someone, and it won’t be the five-time NBA champion.
Next: One last big contract
2. Aldridge wants one last big contract
Aside from the coach and competitive aspects, there’s the money. LaMarcus Aldridge will make just over $21 million for the 2017-18 NBA season. His player option for 2018-19 will be for $22 million, and if he accepts it, will be a one-year deal before entering 2019 free agency.
When Aldridge gets the chance to exercise or decline his player option, he’ll be age 33. It’s a crossroads for him, as his age can warrant arguments for and against him receiving a four-year deal. With all the money handed out in 2017 free agency, however, will that make him test the market for one last long contract?
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If Aldridge delivers his best season in San Antonio, he’ll have an opportunity at four years. Whether it’s the Spurs or another organization, they may feel his production from the 2017-18 season will stay afloat for another season or two and be worth the long-term investment. It’s a risk but, in some cases, there’s always a suitor that will pay up and give the player what he wants.
The long-term deal gives Aldridge stability as he enters the latter years of his career, rather than signing for one or two seasons, declining, and getting a smaller deal to be a role player or part-time starter. So, if he opts out, look for him to target a longer contract.
Next: Aldridge gambles on himself
1. Aldridge gambles on himself for a higher salary
As noted, LaMarcus Aldridge can opt into his 2018-19 contract for $22 million with the San Antonio Spurs. It’s a hefty sum for the future 33-year-old, but it’s his if he decides to take it.
However, the salaries that were handed out in the 2017 offseason may warrant someone like Aldridge receiving a raise, even if it’s just a few million. He’s no Stephen Curry, John Wall, or James Harden that signed some of the NBA’s richest contracts of all time, but it helps the Dallas native’s case for more cash, if it’s there for him in July 2018.
Aldridge will need his best season since 2015 if he stands a chance at making beyond $22 million in 2018-19. He needs something close to or above 20 points and 10 rebounds, which could excite another organization, enough to get the long-term deal for monster money. This may or may not have everyone scratch their heads, but if someone is desperate for name recognition and to draw an extra fan or two, then this is the way for them to go.
Aldridge will just need someone to buy in on his 2017-18 season success. It’s not guaranteed, but if he feels confident enough to gamble on himself, then could he be in a new uniform on a rich deal?