He’s had three All-Star seasons for the San Antonio Spurs, but it might be about time for LaMarcus Aldridge’s role to drastically change.
There comes a time in every man’s career where he has no choice but to take a backseat for the good of the team. David Robinson did it. Tim Duncan did it. It’s a natural step in the tail-end of one’s career. That time has now come for LaMarcus Aldridge for the good of the San Antonio Spurs.
Before I’m accused of taking the preseason too seriously, let me clarify: This isn’t about the preseason. Sure, his inability to hit more than 31.3 percent from the field in each of the three games certainly didn’t help. Neither did his absence on the boards or as an interior defensive presence, but I digress.
This is about what the Spurs need right now, and that’s to play a mix of their best two-way players and young talent as much as possible. It’s not that LaMarcus isn’t a capable rim protector — he just doesn’t have the footspeed to keep up anymore.
The Houston Rockets absolutely feasted at the rim when Aldridge was patrolling the middle in Thursday’s preseason finale. Christian Wood, while very talented in his own right, shouldn’t be looking like Hakeem Olajuwon in his debut game in a new system. As a result, the normally 3-point reliant Rockets outscored the Spurs 58-42 in the paint.
By no means is LaMarcus a bad NBA player, and there’s still a world in which the Spurs can be successful with him around — it just can’t be in the same capacity. Both Aldridge and the team know some changes will be needed to improve upon last season’s disappointment. Here are some ways that can happen.
Next: No. 1 & 2
1. The San Antonio Spurs must greatly reduce Aldridge’s minutes
This is pretty straightforward — now approaching age 35, LaMarcus needs to be more limited on the floor than he ever has been before. Aldridge is still very capable of getting hot from the field on any given night and should be played more accordingly, but those days are becoming further apart.
As a starter, LaMarcus regularly gets 33 minutes per night, second only to DeMar DeRozan‘s 34.1 last season. For the inevitable youth movement to happen as it should, Coach Popovich should consider reducing his minutes in favor of Jakob Poeltl or playing smaller with DeMar at the four.
As a result, some of the up-and-coming Spurs will get more shots as they did in the Orlando bubble that saw the team play the best basketball it played all season.
2. Coach Popovich must have a shorter leash with LaMarcus
We’ve all seen how quick Coach Pop is to pull someone like Lonnie Walker out of the game for missing a defensive rotation or making a bad decision. It’s something he’s done throughout his career, from Tony Parker to Dejounte Murray.
While it’s way too late in Aldridge’s career to pull him for a simple mistake here and there, pulling the plug earlier than usual in the hopes of getting a spark isn’t a bad idea. LaMarcus has a tendency to bog down the Spurs’ offense at times, and when they’re not getting stops on the other end, that’s a killer.
When it’s clear San Antonio needs to get out and run for easier buckets and momentum-changing runs, they’re much more likely to do so without younger, more athletic guys on the court.
Next: No. 3
San Antonio Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
3. Trade LaMarcus, even if it’s not for their expected value
This option, of course, only comes if it becomes clear the Spurs are going nowhere. Some people might say they already are, but we’ve still yet to see a healthy squad since last March. When Derrick White and Keldon Johnson are back in the lineup and healthy, that will add a lot on both ends of the court for San Antonio.
At this point, I personally am in the camp that San Antonio needs to move on from LaMarcus Aldridge and get what they can for him before the March 25th trade deadline. They’ve had their mid-range shooting duo for long enough to know the Spurs can’t get where they need to be on their backs alone.
There should still be plenty of interest from contenders for a man of LaMarcus’s skill set, and barring a hot start for the Spurs with Aldridge, they should take full advantage. Even if they’re doing better than expected when March comes around, they should still field offers that could lead to future assets as San Antonio continues their quasi-rebuild.
As plenty of Spurs greats have done before him, LaMarcus will likely need to take more of a backseat this season if we don’t see more than we saw in the preseason. If not, the lottery could be calling them once again this offseason.