If the San Antonio Spurs traded LaMarcus Aldridge in the 2017 offseason, where would the team be now?
LaMarcus Aldridge has played like an All-Star for the San Antonio Spurs, at least in the 2017-18 season. He could make his sixth All-Star Game when voting ends on Jan. 15. Whether he does or not, the 32-year-old deserves praise for his overtaking of the offense, especially while Kawhi Leonard misses more games due to injury.
However, about six months ago, it appeared Aldridge would not suit up in the Silver and Black again. This was publicized in the early part of the 2017 offseason, and head coach Gregg Popovich recently noted how Aldridge requested a trade. A heart-to-heart conversation avoided this transaction and led to a fresh contract extension for the Texas product.
What if the Spurs granted this trade request, though? How different would this team look?
Would Aldridge be in Sacramento?
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When LaMarcus Aldridge hit the trade block, the Sacramento Kings were the only team mentioned as a suitor. They held two first-round picks, both of which were in the top 10, so it looked like a potential match for the Spurs, as long as a draft selection was desired.
What if this swap happened? The Kings owned the No. 10 pick, potentially trading it for Aldridge’s one remaining season (plus a player option) and over $20 million owed in salary. This pick eventually went to the Portland Trail Blazers, who selected center Zach Collins from Gonzaga. It’s who we projected San Antonio to select if it acquired this pick.
Would Collins be a Spur? There would be an obvious hole to fill at one of the big man positions, especially with Pau Gasol‘s opt-out (which he used, only to re-sign), so a center-of-the-future tag on the former Gonzaga Bulldog made sense. Kentucky’s Bam Adebayo was available, too, after power forwards like Lauri Markkanen and Jonathan Isaac were selected in the top 10.
Picking a young center or power forward would further push the Spurs into a youth movement. Young pieces were already surrounding Kawhi Leonard, including Davis Bertans, Kyle Anderson and Dejounte Murray, especially as Tony Parker nears the end of his career and Tim Duncan no longer being around. So, would the organization push this forward, without Aldridge on the roster?
Next: Direction in free agency
Alternate options in free agency
The San Antonio Spurs signed Rudy Gay, Joffrey Lauvergne and Brandon Paul in free agency. None of them were praised or criticized, but they weren’t the big splashes that the Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves pulled off in trades. It didn’t match the Golden State Warriors’ firepower, either.
What if LaMarcus Aldridge trade happened, though? Would anything change?
There were quality veteran options available at power forward, players who had the ability to shake up the lineup. Paul Millsap was one of them, but at $30 million per season, the odds of the Spurs matching what the Denver Nuggets paid seem slim. The same for Serge Ibaka and the Toronto Raptors.
What about Taj Gibson? The offensive skill would not come close to Aldridge’s at power forward, but as someone to split minutes with the big man the Spurs selected in the draft. He provides defense in the post and has a good-enough offensive game to make an impact. The $14 million per season that the Minnesota Timberwolves paid him would not break the bank, either.
Kelly Olynyk could have been an option, too. Not the most appealing piece, but someone that can split a role with a younger big man, similar to Gibson. Although four years, $50 million was plenty for the Miami Heat to pay.
That leads back to Gay, who signed for two years, $17 million. A low-cost, high-risk option would make sense to play power forward. The Spurs would eye his scoring upside at a cheaper price, due to the ruptured Achilles he suffered in January 2017. He can play next to Pau Gasol and give San Antonio a different look at power forward than they’ve had the past 20 years.
So, nothing may have changed here, at least in free agency. Would the Spurs still sign Gay, or move in a different direction?
Next: Kawhi Leonard's return timetable
Would the Spurs lean further toward conservatively returning Leonard?
Days before the 2017 preseason, the San Antonio Spurs ruled Kawhi Leonard out indefinitely. He suffered a quad injury, something the organization never elaborated further on, in regard to severity and when it happened. The team missed its superstar for the first two months of the season, before returning for a mid-December game.
Without Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge kept the Spurs afloat. So, it’s difficult to picture how the offense would look without both players in the lineup, and for the first chunk of the season. Factor in no Tony Parker, too.
The Spurs moved Leonard along slowly, before bringing him back on Dec. 12. Frankly, it would not be a surprise if he was brought back at a later date, rather than returning him in the midst of a playoff push.
With San Antonio potentially out of the playoff mix, what if Leonard returned to the lineup two or three weeks later in December? What about a January 2018 comeback? That’s if the Spurs already punted the 2017-18 campaign, and decided to not risk their superstar reaggravating this ailment. He can return in the second half of the season, get in game shape, and be ready for a full season in 2018-19.
Keeping a star player off the court may be difficult, but in a lost season, a healthy future matters. Then, the team reevaluates its position in the offseason and moves from there.
Next: Falling down the standings
A tumble down the standings
No Kawhi Leonard for half the season and being without LaMarcus Aldridge significantly lowers the roster’s talent. That leaves an aging Tony Parker, Pau Gasol, a top-10 pick, Rudy Gay, Danny Green and a handful of young pieces that were already in place. On paper, this looks disastrous.
This roster would not contain a primary scorer, unless Gasol morphs into his 2009-2010 form with the Los Angeles Lakers. His scoring production declined in recent years, and while it would trend up due to the available shots, having him as the primary player would not work well, especially in a fast-paced, small-ball NBA.
Around the 37-year-old, a recently-returning Gay would be the No. 2 scorer. Green, Patty Mills, the pick and someone like Kyle Anderson would follow. That’s not exactly inspiring.
The lack of a primary scorer, even a No. 2 option, has the potential to doom the Spurs. They may be one of the worst offensive teams in the NBA, resulting in a tumble down the standings and a risk at not making the playoffs. If so, it would be the first time since the 1996-97 season, when David Robinson was injured and Tim Duncan went No. 1 overall in the 1997 NBA Draft.
The Spurs would get Leonard back, however, even if the left shoulder strain follows him. Would he be 100 percent at any point in the season?
Without Leonard and a potentially troubling set of scoring options, the Spurs would be in for one of their worst seasons in the Gregg Popovich era. So, it’s not the worst thing that the situation subsided with Aldridge, right?