A trade between the San Antonio Spurs and Chicago Bulls surrounding seven-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge could be mutually beneficial.
Despite drafting the seven-time All-Star second overall in the 2006 NBA Draft, LaMarcus Aldridge never played a game for the Chicago Bulls. In a deal that looks foolish in hindsight, Chicago moved the future-star for a pick, high-flyer Tyrus Thomas and Viktor Khryapa, who played just 143 NBA games across four seasons.
Now at the tail end of his career, 34-year-old Aldridge could be on the trade block as the San Antonio Spurs scrap their way through a rigid Western Conference with the hope of breaking the NBA record for consecutive playoff appearances.
San Antonio is playing better as of late, winning four of their last five games and six of their last nine, but nothing is guaranteed and first-year general manager Brian Wright could have seen all he needs to hit the reset button on this roster.
Enter Chicago: a feisty, young 10th seed just three games behind the Brooklyn Nets for an Eastern Conference playoff spot. Potential All-Star Zach LaVine is playing the best basketball of his life without much help to surround him. If the Bulls want to go all-in on LaVine and a playoff run, calling San Antonio to acquire some veteran talent could help shift their dynamic and surge a playoff push.
As discussed by Andrew Miller of Pippen Ain’t Easy, moving Aldridge back to the team that drafted him could right some of the organization’s wrongs and aid Chicago, the city that hosts the 2020 All-Star Weekend, in making some noise and scrap into the postseason.
Next: Motivation for trading Aldridge to Chicago
Motivation for trading Aldridge to Chicago
Now in his fifth season as a Spur, Aldridge has been a point of contention amongst the fanbase for quite some time. For many, he’s the figurehead of stability for an organization that needed it during the retirement of the illustrious Big Three, as well as the untimely departure of two-time champion Kawhi Leonard.
Aldridge has seen the Spurs at their best and leveled them at their worst in his five years donning silver and black, but has never been able to get them over the hump despite his constant presence as a mid-range menace and stout interior presence.
There’s also nothing to suggest that Aldridge can be the catalyst for a team seeking a championship, as the Spurs’ organization is known to do. He’s a great veteran to have around young players because he leads by example and by all accounts is the epitome of professionalism.
But he’s simply never been a championship-level talent, and for the Spurs to take that next step in the pursuit of a sixth NBA title, they may need to work from the ground up with young players to establish a new identity of Spurs basketball rooted in homegrown talent for coaches Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan and Becky Hammon to groom in their ideology.
This is what makes the Bulls an ideal trade candidate—their best trade chips are impressionable players that fit into the landscape of the contemporary NBA. They’ve seen what it’s like to play for struggling organizations and would land a tremendous opportunity when joining an elite franchise like San Antonio’s.
It’s nothing personal against Aldridge – most fans would send warm wishes and lots of love to the veteran big man’s way if he were shipped off. However, his departure would be a casualty of the Spurs’ inability to compete for a championship with him as their best, or second-best player, depending on what you think of DeMar DeRozan.
Next: Crafting a deal that benefits both parties
Crafting a deal that benefits both parties
Credit to Miller, who I mentioned in the first slide, for creating a strong baseline for the following suggestion. Of his three suggestions, the trade that I felt made the most sense for both parties was a swap of LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarre Carroll and a first-round pick for Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter Jr. and Kris Dunn.
This is a really strong trade for both sides because it gives two strong veteran frontcourt players for the Bulls to work with, and two players that address their defensive concerns. Carroll is wasting away on the Spurs’ bench and trading him is in the best interest for all parties, plus he adds to a locker room quite a bit with his experience and leadership.
However, I’d tweak that offer just a bit to make it more bearable for the Spurs to give up their All-Star big man and a pick.
First off, the Spurs would do everything in their power to lottery protect that first-round pick, even if it means adding in a second-round pick to sweeten the deal. Second, I’d replace Dunn in the deal with forward/center Luke Kornet, who the Bulls added on a two-year deal this past offseason. Kornet is a floor spacer with a solid arsenal of post moves and the potential to be a really good rim defender.
This isn’t to say he’d get any playing time for the Spurs but could develop into something within the team’s development system and comes at a much cheaper price. Dunn is a better player, being one of the best guard defenders in the league, but San Antonio has no need for Dunn since starting point guard Dejounte Murray is a very similar player, except vastly better as an offensive player.
Bringing Kornet back in the deal, most enticingly, could afford the Spurs the chance to open up a roster spot by buying him out or finding another team to take his contract on. This allows San Antonio to become a player in the mid-season buyout market, or add someone like Kenneth Faried that’s already a free agent.
Next: How does this trade benefit the Spurs?
How does this trade benefit the Spurs?
Nevermind the final piece—bringing Porter and Markkanen to San Antonio does dividends for the Spurs’ long-term outlook. Let’s begin by taking a look at the 26-year-old Porter, a 6-foot-8 small forward who brings length, defense intensity and a 40% three-point shot to the table.
Drafted third overall in the 2013 NBA Draft, Porter has been a victim of his surroundings every year since entering the league. Though he was the part of a dynamic Washington Wizards team led by the duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal, Porter has also been on the wrong side of the majority of games he’s played at this point in his career despite being a gifted talent with a whirlwind of potential.
Porter’s greatest single talent is his high basketball IQ. He possesses a wealth of knowledge for a player of his age and although he’s not the most athletic forward, he makes up for it with a lengthy frame, consistent effort and smart decision-making.
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As an exceptional three-level scorer, Porter improves his game with each year. He’s a willing passer and has improved his handle slowly yet surely, providing assistance as a secondary ball-handler whenever necessary. Placing a player like Porter next to the Spurs’ young guards would help improve the group’s wing defense while adding an extra layer of floor spacing and three-point prowess.
The other piece in this trade, the aforementioned Markkanen, is a legit seven-footer with exceptional range from beyond the three-point line. Now in his third year out of Arizona, the 22-year-old is in a slump. His field goal percentage is down six-tenths of a percent and his three-point shooting is down to 34.4% from 36.1% last year, and yet he remains one of the league’s more intriguing prospects as a hybrid big man.
Markkanen is still on his rookie contract, so he won’t cost much compared to the widely overpaid Porter entering a player option in the offseason that he’ll surely take due to its high cost. San Antonio may have to overpay Porter for a season and a half unless he unexpectedly opts out this offseason, but the experiment could be worth it.
These two young players not only fit the trends of the modern league but fit in well with the Spurs’ cast of young characters. Saying goodbye to Aldridge wouldn’t be fun, though it’s a risk that could pay off in the long-run.