It’s not hard to guess this one: We’re sending LaMarcus Aldridge home to the Portland Trail Blazers, allowing the San Antonio Spurs to get younger.
The mutual interest between San Antonio Spurs big man LaMarcus Aldridge and his former Portland Trail Blazers teammate Damian Lillard has been well-known for a few years now. That tandem didn’t work out during their first run and ultimately, Aldridge found it in his best interest to head South to the River City. It’s been a fantastic run for the former All-NBA big in San Antonio, but as the team trends younger, it may be time for Aldridge and the Spurs to part ways.
Considering the outward dialogue that’s been had about Aldridge and Lillard’s relationship, the Spurs’ front office likely wouldn’t be opposed to sending him back to Portland. He’s made the transition from the Big Three era and Kawhi Leonard’s departure much more palatable for San Antonio — that deserves to be rewarded and praised.
However, the Spurs can’t make a deal with Portland just because it sounds good on paper. They need to do what’s right for their organization, which is why the Blazers need to be willing to negotiate. They’re not going to get a Hall of Famer for cheap — especially with the knowledge that he’s almost guaranteed to sign a team-friendly deal to end his career in the Rose City.
With that in mind, this trade is one in which both teams give up more than they’re comfortable with, but at the end of the day, it makes sense for both parties.
In return for sending LaMarcus Aldridge and a lottery-protected 2021 first-round pick to the Portland Trail Blazers, the San Antonio Spurs bring back a haul of Zach Collins, Nassir Little and Trevor Ariza.
Trading Aldridge isn’t the part that’s going to make Spurs fans nervous; It’s that first-round pick. For a team on the verge of a rebuild, it’s going to be very difficult to give away such a valuable asset that directly correlates with the team’s wins and losses. However, that lottery protection changes the entire outlook of that asset.
With seven player’s contracts set to expire in 2021, the Spurs will have an abundance of cap space to toy around with. Not every team will have that luxury despite it being one of the most stacked free-agent classes in recent memory.
Therefore, San Antonio has a shot to go big-game hunting with a better chance than ever considering they only have $24.8 million on the books for the 2021-22 season. San Antonio can keep its pick if the team fails to reach the playoffs next year. In 2022, when the pick is more likely to translate, it’ll be less valuable since the Spurs’ young core will already have ascended into legitimate rotation players. The Spurs project to be a much different team with more winning aspirations and fewer limitations in 2022.
The appeal for Portland is a good speculative pick for the near-future and returning one of the franchise’s five greatest players of all-time. For a small-market team, the feel-good story and chance to compete transcends what they’ll need to pay him in the short-term.
For San Antonio, the return of Zach Collins and Nassir Little should be more than sufficient for Aldridge. Collins missed a large portion of the season with a shoulder injury but is widely considered their best prospects after going 10th overall in the loaded 2017 NBA Draft class.
He’s a great rebounder with good instincts both on both sides of the floor, which led him to a +13.4 Net Rating per 100 possessions in the Blazers’ first three games of the season. For reference, the team finished at a +4 rating in his three games played. He’s an influential player who doesn’t need the ball in his hands to affect the game, making him a hot commodity as a hybrid power forward/center.
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Little, on the other hand, is more of a work-in-progress. After having lottery aspirations, he fell to the 25th pick in the first round of the 2019 Draft. His scoring averages were mediocre, but his 7-foot-2 wingspan, tremendous athleticism and high motor make him a great upside rookie who can play both sides of the ball. His shot needs work, but shot doctor extraordinaire Chip Engelland could work out the kinks and help him reach his full potential.
Ariza is only in the trade as a cap-filler, but he can bring a veteran presence and fill a position of need at the small forward without any long-term financial ramifications. In the Spurs’ system, Ariza can rebuild his free-agent value by taking high-efficiency triples and playing defense off the bench.
This deal has shades of the Toronto Raptors’ deal for former Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol last season. They traded away a promising young big, Jonas Valanciunas, a promising work-in-progress, Delon Wright and a cap filler, C.J. Miles. The deal ultimately worked out for both parties and paved way for both parties to reach the playoffs in the following year.
This way, the Blazers capitalize on Dame’s prime and the Spurs can look ahead. It’s a win-win.