By now, most San Antonio Spurs fans know it’s happening: the team is officially and mutually parting ways with LaMarcus Aldridge. Air Alamo has been all over this, covering the most likely destinations and best fits for Aldridge, with Ethan Farina already highlighting a few noteworthy trade opportunities to make sure the Spurs get at least some return value as opposed to a pure buy out scenario.
This piece builds on those pieces by delving into five trades with some of the key contenders linked to LaMarcus, and yes, we’re using NBA2K to do it. As mentioned in last week’s gaming out trades with NBA 2K piece, 2K allows us to account for salaries, cap space, and trade rules while also introducing an objective trade logic to keep the traders honest.
It’s far from perfect, but it’s one measure to keep us accountable and add a degree of realism to trades and stop us from spinning expectations on trades that would never happen. No amount of wishing will let us trade LaMarcus Aldridge for Luka Doncic or Giannis Antetokounmpo, so it’s better to focus on pieces the Spurs could actually get in return. We’ll start with a much-talked-about reunion.
Next: Trade 1
The Blazers get their legend back from the San Antonio Spurs
Stating the obvious, the NBA world would love Aldridge to reunite with Damian Lillard and his former team in Portland. What I personally find less obvious but far more relevant is that the Blazers are currently a dark horse title contender.
It sounds like a stretch, I know, until you realize they were rocking a 21-14 record at the halfway mark, placing them fifth in the blistering Western Conference without CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, the team’s second and third-best players.
They’re the dark horse for the reason that they’re obviously not the favorites, but a key fringe piece or two shoring up their rotation could make all the difference here. Enter LaMarcus Aldridge and Lonnie Walker.
On the Blazers, Aldridge’s low post-scoring presence and midrange touch could be used to bully second units and also to play alongside Nurkic or Enes Kanter. By playing alongside Nurkic or Kanter, Aldridge’s rebounding and defensive deficiencies become far less glaring with him slotting into the power forward position, his preferred spot on the floor.
Lonnie Walker is the young guard the Blazers need to bolster their backcourt depth, combining explosiveness, shooting touch, and defensive competitiveness. He’s exactly the type of player the Blazers could use now to compete, especially considering what the Blazers would be giving up in this trade.
The unprotected first-round picks the Spurs would be receiving could be used to continue building the team’s young core or stockpiled and flipped for another asset down the future. The Spurs would also receive Zach Collins, a young, versatile power forward with shot-blocking potential and some touch, who I’m sure the Blazers would rather not part with. But realistically, this trade would all about maximizing Lillard’s title contention chances for the next three to four years, and when you’re going all in and feel primed for contention, you can part with some assets.
Rodney Hood and Derrick Jones Jr give the Spurs length, athleticism, and versatile players that can play and guard three positions apiece. They’re the perfect vets for a team looking to prioritize youth, but can slot in anywhere you need them whenever you need them.
Stating the obvious, the Trail Blazers will not be giving up any of their key pieces for Aldridge and Walker, meaning that Lillard, McCollum, Nurkic, Carmelo Anthony, Robert Covington, Gary Trent Jr, and Kanter are all off the table, so the contracts of Hood and Jones Jr become essential for this trade to line up financially.
Next: Trade 2
The San Antonio Spurs get some help while unloading expiring contracts
The Heat, somewhat surprisingly, have been linked to both Aldridge and Gay, and this trade gets them both. Like the Blazers, the Heat are contenders, so it’s not surprising that they’d want these two. With very few picks in their possession and not too many players they would part with just for these two, here’s one way they could go about it.
This is where the Cavaliers come in, giving the Spurs Larry Nance Jr., a player who could serve as the perfect spacing, defending, rebounding, and slashing complement to an offense led by Dejounte Murray and Keldon Johnson.
Throw in the shooting and rim protection provided by Kelly Olynyk and the defense, wisdom, and playmaking of Andrew Iguodala, and this turns into a pretty nice payout for a Spurs team expected to lose both of these players at the end of the season anyway,
The Miami Heat also get to wash their hands clean of Meyers Leonard, an underproducing big recently under fire for anti-Semitic remarks, while the Cavs get Leonard and multiple picks, as well as free up minutes for their logjammed frontcourt just for participating. Win-win-win?
Next: Trade 3
The San Antonio Spurs deal with a division rival
I know, I know, I know. Trading LaMarcus and DeRozan to the divisional, inner-Texas rivals? Definitely risky. But depending on your perspective, the reward might be worth it. And speaking of risk, the Spurs wouldn’t be the only ones absorbing some from this trade – the Mavericks would be taking on plenty as well.
Here, Luka gets a true bonafide creator in DeRozan, and Dallas native Aldridge gets an amazing homecoming and a chance to compete for a championship, possibly still as a starter with Dallas.
Naturally, both of these players are much older than Kristaps Porzingins, shrinking Dallas’s title window until they rebuild keeping Luka as the centerpiece. It’s also no guarantee that they resign with Dallas. But ultimately, the reward for both of these team could be well beyond worth it, especially for San Antonio.
This trade all hinges on Porzingis, who is averaging over 20 points, eight rebounds, and 1.5 blocks while playing as a second option and he is just now rounding into form. Age-wise, he fits far better with the Spurs than the Mavericks (aside from Luka), and he has the low post and shooting aptitude to play inside and outside, allowing him to play alongside Poeltl and function as the team’s center.
Defensively, Porzingis is a work in progress, especially after his injury, but I could see a Twin Tower-style defense working where it’s okay if one big is beat on the perimeter since another will be lurking inside, especially given Poeltl’s elite stature on that end.
Reuniting with per-minute monster Boban Marjanovic and having the super versatile and defense-minded James Johnson on the team, both on expiring contracts, is just the icing on the cake.
But beyond these trade pieces themselves, Porzingis gives the team another elite young, 26-and-under talent with star potential. When healthy, you can argue KP is already a star. Of course that matters for this season, but that becomes especially important for upcoming NBA free agency, especially if the plan is to recruit a young talent like John Collins, who operates best offensively with space inside.
A starting lineup of Dejounte, Derrick White (or even potentially Victor Oladipo or dare I even say Kawhi) from free agency, Keldon Johnson, Collins, and Porzingis with increased minutes and opportunities for Lonnie and Vassell off the bench with Patty Mills and Poeltl anchoring an elite second unit? Sign me up.
The Spurs would be giving up a lot to make this trade work, but LaMarcus is leaving, and there’s no way around it. DeRozan may return, but even if he does, the debate over what to do with him is pretty polarizing. Yes, he was snubbed from the All-Star Game this year, but objectively he plays the same log-jammed positions that Vassell, Johnson, White, Walker, and even Dejounte and Patty occasionally play.
Even though I like DeMar and have been blown away from his play this year, it’s worth considering if freeing up space for the others at their natural positions makes the tradeoff worth it.
Next: Trade 4
Andrew Wiggins (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)
The San Antonio Spurs build toward their future with Golden State
Another one all about the picks here. The top-3 protected pick acquired from Minnesota could be an absolute game-changer in terms of acquiring a generational talent or flipping it for great young talent as part of a package trade.
While the Spurs would get the “worst” pick in the swaps between it and Golden State in reality, that might not actually be close to a non-factor. The Warriors, especially with this lineup and a healthy Klay Thompson, will be competing for years, a likelihood that probably happens anyway, which means their picks coming to the Spurs will not be that high. The thing is, so will the Spurs, so it’s not exactly like the Warriors would be acquiring lottery picks from us either.
The Warriors would do this trade because the Andrew Wiggins gamble has not worked out nearly as well for them as they had hoped, with him remaining stagnant as a player offensively and currently in the midst of a pretty significant shooting slump.
But more importantly, the Warrior get not only LaMarcus but also DeMar DeRozan, who coach Steve Kerr has been extremely high on in the past. While the team would have mixed feelings about moving on from Draymond Green, Green will be 34 at the end of his contract and the payoff from LA and DeMar would be more than enough to compensate for losing someone with Draymond’s spacing limitations as a shooter.
With that being said, Wiggins and Green would be more than throw-ins for the Spurs. Draymond is a beyond serviceable starting power forward even for a contender and would be an incredible mentor for the Spurs’ younger players — particularly for Murray, Keldon, and Vassell, who would unlock their full potential defensively.
By all accounts, he does work hard practicing his shot, so pairing him with Spurs shooting coach Chip Engelland seems like it would work wonders for his confidence as a shooter. Offensively, Wiggins actually plays surprisingly similar to a younger DeRozan, so while he’s not nearly as polished as the Derozan we see now, the 26-year-old first-round pick has as good a shot to figure it out around Coach Pop as he does anywhere else. And to his credit, Wiggins is slowly morphing into an elite defender, as noted by Blue Man Hoop.
Next: Trade 5
Harrison Barnes (Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)
Another three-team trade for the San Antonio Spurs
If this trade looks EXACTLY familiar from one of the gaming out trades with NBA 2K, that’s because it is – I’m bringing it back. At the time, I wasn’t sure that this was a good trade for the Spurs – I thought they could get more value elsewhere. But with LaMarcus potentially walking for no assets, I think it’s more relevant than it was a week ago.
Consider this one the Spurs’ “buy-out contingency.” Aldridge has been linked to the Lakers, Celtics (although that interest seems to be waning), and a few other teams that only work as pure buy-out candidates. Those teams have no assets the Spurs would want that they’d actually part with for a guy they think they can sign through free agency, and no picks of any significance or value. That’s where this trade comes in.
The underrated piece of the trade for the Spurs is the acquisition of Harrison Barnes, a 28-year-old with championship experience who can play either forward spot and is silently averaging 16.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.5 assists for the Kings on excellent shooting splits.
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As I wrote last week, the Spurs still acquire the aforementioned Nance Jr., a bonafide rim protector behind Poeltl in Hassan Whiteside, and reunite with Corey Joseph.
They also receive a lottery-protected pick from Sacramento, which again, could become incredibly valuable in more ways than one.
Aldridge moving to the Cavaliers would be purely to facilitate a buy-out on their end. The Cavaliers are incentivized to do so because Buddy Hield, Lonnie Walker, and Trey Lyles are pretty substantial assets.
Not only do the Cavaliers free themselves from Drummond and carve room for Jarrett Allen and Javale McGee, but they also instantly fill out their young team with young promising players like Hield and Walker, who could fill it up at the wing spots and are only going to get better.
Meanwhile, the Kings instantly rebuild around De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton and become a threat for playoff contention in the loaded Western Conference by adding DeRozan and Drummond in the frontcourt.
The Kings also get to continue their rebuild while parting with Harrison Barnes, Buddy Hield, and Hassan Whiteside, three guys the team may be looking to move on from anyway.