Goodbye, LaMarcus Aldridge
Some of you know I write more than just this newsletter and that has been keeping me away from updating posts frequently in the last week or so. In particular, college basketball has been poppin’ y’all.
The Spurs were in trade mode but that did not go through well at all. The Spurs were not holding good cards. Aldridge’s value dropped considerably after about 2017. No one felt he was good enough to carry the team — and that includes some of you Spurs fans. The Spurs’ penchant for seeing value that others do not is generally a good thing — draft picks success! — but it hurts them in cases like this. The Spurs clearly still thought LMA was good but no one else did. Well, no one thought he was worth what the Spurs were asking for.
So now he is a Net, like fellow PF Blake Griffin, who summed up the reaction best:
“It’s kind of funny to me, because for the last couple years all I’ve heard is how bad I am. You sign with this team and everybody’s like, ‘That’s not fair!’ ”
Being the not-quite follow up to Tim-and-Dave was never going to be a good gig. The Spurs did a smart thing by recruiting him to the team in the summer of 2015 and won a lot of games in his first two years as the centerpiece (quite literally). The “plan” fell apart once Kawhi bolted after his lost season. That was two years of trying to course-correct.
If he was lucky, and the team was lucky, Aldridge had about 6-8 productive seasons left in him with the Spurs. That was an extreme scenario. In all likelihood the five years he spent with the Spurs were the last five season he had as a star, or lead guy on a team. Even Tim Duncan was not the primary offensive weapon at age 35. Not everyone is LeBron James.
Age 30 - 2015/16 season:
Spurs go 67-15, put him historic numbers that rival only the first-placed more historic Warriors and then fall apart against a really good Durant-Westbrook-Ibaka squad. That series had a lot of bullshit involved including that terrible call in game two and David West missing a crucial jumper in Game 5. That was the series in which LMA scored 38, 41, 24, 20, 20, and 18. He scored points. He was good-to-great for a bit. His whole role that first season was to be a scoring big man that Tim could not be while the rest of the Spurs were transitioning to be Kawhi’s team.
That Thunder team took the Warriors and put them down 3-1. The run in these two series was incredible. There should be no shame for losing in this one even if it hurts like hell.
Age 31 - 2016/17:
Spurs go 61-20, and are clearly Kawhi’s team with some support from LMA. Tim is gone. It’s clearly compromised Manu and a tiny sprinkle of Tony Parker. This was another really good team that never really had a good chance of beating Golden State but did give them fits at their peak in the Game 1 loss. The Kawhi game. That moment changed the franchise — but given what we know about Leonard, that dude might have split even if he won the title, the MVP, the finals MVP, and whatever — the Spurs internally believed they could beat the Dubs and they had Steph and company on the ropes in that first half.
Back on the old version of this thing I wrote about how it was clear that Aldridge was a good scorer but not clutch or whatever. Even if that is true or whatever that even means, the perception of Aldridge as not top tier in this league was calcified. Putting aside the difficulty of dominating a game as a big man in this day and age (or even that day and age) he simply was schemed out and struggled beyond the first game.
That was it. His previous reputation as a scorer but not much in the way of a leader/player/franchise piece was solidified in that moment.
Age 32 - 2017/18
The Spurs had Kawhi — but didn’t. This was the weird year and two things happened: everyone wrote off the Spurs and also Aldridge had a hell of a year. He took the majority of the shots (suited him) and scored 23.1 per game while playing some really good defense on the sly. For a sub-50 win team it was not particularly notable but he had put together some very nice defensive seasons, showing his mobility and it came to a head here as he did really good things being the anchor of a solid defense. The team could not score worth a damn and it was brushed aside easily in the playoffs but it was there.
Age 33 - 2018/2019
The first year of the DeRozan - Aldridge pairing experiment. At this point neither were feeling like this was what they had signed up for when they wrote their names on those contracts. LMA thought he would be competing for titles and DeRozan thought he would be in Canada. This team was fine, but flawed. The scoring boost that DeRozan brought (slightly at the expense of Aldridge but not by much) did not offset the injury to Dejounte Murray and the losses of Danny Green and Kawhi. This squad could not defend even though Aldridge was still solid. This team started with Pau Gasol on a really dead money contract and if LMA/DDR could not push through with a challenge there was little sense in forcing the issue. Aldridge scored 21.2 per game, PER at 22.9. Solid year but will be remembered as the time he had a brainfart at the end of the Nuggets series. Again, another unfortunate event that reinforced the perceptions that he cannot be the main dude in the playoffs (even if by then the Spurs had only the slimmest chance of winning that game).
Age 34 - 2019/20
The Pandemic year saw Aldridge dip back under 20 ppg and he was sat for the bubble games (he also was injured). There was a lot that was off about this season so we’ll just move on.
Age 35 - 2020/21
He finished his season with the Spurs at 13.7. There were lingering injuries and he was not moving well at all. For all the criticism of his personality and ability, he was always thought of as a pro. He is clearly capable of support minutes but the team was always going to be better in the long run giving the younger guys the minutes so they can develop. If he does not want to spend his remaining years as a support guy for an 8th seed? I get it. He would rather come off the bench to make a run for a championship. He has the tools and can help the Nets do whatever they need. It is fine.
Aldridge is not going to be beloved here but he played some good basketball in about four of five seasons. Sure, he was not as good or as clutch as the legendary Spurs but that is also what makes those guys legends. His number will be in the rafters simply for having already been Bowen’s numbers. You do not have to love the guy, but we can at least respect his time here.
So long, LaMarcus.