Even after their surprisingly dominant victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday, the San Antonio Spurs still sit at 7-13, have a -2.4 net rating (good for 20th in the league) and boast the dubious distinction of being the first Gregg Popovich-led team ever to lose eight games in a row.
The team’s horrid start has led many around the league to wonder if San Antonio could be open for business as the season progresses, particularly if they don’t turn things around soon. And one of the players consistently mentioned as a potential trade target is seven-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge.
As one league executive told HoopsHype: “I think it’s still early in the season, but the West is really tough [so you never know when it comes to trades]. I don’t think you can ever count out Gregg Popovich. I think they will make these decisions closer to the February trade deadline. There are some issues with LaMarcus: Is he a center now? Can he play with a fast-paced team? Also, matching the salary in a trade for LaMarcus or DeMar could be tough.”
Aldridge has two years and $50 million left on his contract. On the season, he’s averaging 18.9 points, 6.7 rebounds (the second-lowest total of his career), 2.5 assists and 1.8 blocks (a career-high) per game on 51.7/35.5/83.3 shooting splits. What’s more, he ranks 33rd in Value Over Replacement Player (+0.6) and 35th in Win Shares (+1.8), meaning that two valued catch-all metrics rate him higher than the average fan might.
Overall, those are numbers that could sway a contender into thinking Aldridge could be the missing piece needed to make a run. The best way to put it might be: If Aldridge is your best player, as is clearly the case in San Antonio, your team is going to have trouble on most nights. But as a secondary or even tertiary piece, there’s a chance he could be a legitimate difference-maker.
As far as teams that could pop up as potential Aldridge suitors, HoopsHype asked various NBA executives for their thoughts on the matter, and one of the first landing spots that was mentioned was a familiar team for the big man: “The Portland Trail Blazers could make sense,” a Western Conference exec told us. “Would Portland give up Hassan Whiteside plus Zach Collins or a pick?”
Portland did start the season off quite slowly, but after the addition of Carmelo Anthony, who is averaging 17.7 points and shooting 37 percent from three for the Blazers and now mans the 4-spot for them while on a minimum contract, they might be less inclined to make the potentially expensive move for Aldridge since they’re getting so much value out of Anthony’s deal. Plus, losing Whiteside’s defensive prowess and switching to a starting frontcourt of Anthony and Aldridge would force the Blazers to score 125-plus points per game in order to win, since it would be one of the weaker defensive 4-5 combinations in the league.
Portland wasn’t the only team mentioned for Aldridge. Another one that came up was the Denver Nuggets, who are 13-4 and aren’t even playing their best basketball yet.
“Maybe Denver could be a destination for Aldridge,” a Western Conference executive mentioned to HoopsHype. “If they think he can play the 4, it could make sense. He probably can’t play the 4 at this stage, but I don’t know how other front offices feel. Malik Beasley and Mason Plumlee for LaMarcus is one possible trade scenario.”
With Nikola Jokic off to a slow start this season, averaging 16.1 points and 10.4 rebounds while shooting 46.7 percent from the floor and 24.2 percent from three, Aldridge could be brought in to take some of the pressure off of the 24-year-old. If Denver believes the duo could coexist as a starting frontcourt in the modern NBA, that move could help slide Paul Millsap to a bench role, where he could do some serious damage against opposing second units.
A third Western Conference club was also brought up as a potential destination for Aldridge. The Phoenix Suns, losers in six of their last seven games after a surprisingly strong start to the season, were mentioned by a Western Conference executive, though he questioned if they had the salaries to match San Antonio on such a deal.
If the two sides could figure out the financials, Aldridge would be a completely logical target for a Phoenix team so desperate to turn the corner, since he’s a veteran All-Star who can play the position where they are probably the weakest: power forward. You could do a whole lot worse than a starting frontcourt of Aldridge and either Aron Baynes or Deandre Ayton when he returns from suspension. Remember, the Suns nearly signed Aldridge back in 2015. The big man has said he was “very close” to joining Phoenix, but he ultimately chose San Antonio.
Finally, the Sacramento Kings were the last team mentioned by league execs for Aldridge.
Sacramento is 8-10 through 18 games, tied with Phoenix in record out West. Landing Aldridge would be huge for their playoff odds this season, something they haven’t done since 2005-06, the longest active stretch of futility in the NBA. The one area the Kings could use some help is at the frontcourt, where young buck Richaun Holmes is presently the starter. To be sure, the 26-year-old Holmes is doing a commendable job at the moment, averaging career-highs in points (10.9), rebounds (8.1) and blocks (1.5), but there’s no question Aldridge would both provide an upgrade to Sacramento’s starting five, while allowing Holmes to come off the bench, where he’d present matchup nightmares against opposing backup centers.
For teams like Phoenix and Sacramento, both trying mightily to turn the corner behind talented young cores but lacking in the veteran All-Star leadership needed to do it, Aldridge would be a fantastic trade target.
But we do have to take into account the fact that the Spurs fully guaranteed the final year of Aldridge’s deal recently, so they likely didn’t head into this season with the intention of trading their best player.
At the same time, though, there’s no way San Antonio thought they’d struggle this much in 2019-20, fielding a team that would set the losing streak record under Popovich. As such, and as if often the case in the NBA, we must remember things can change quickly in this league, and if the losing continues, don’t be surprised to hear Aldridge’s name start to get mentioned as a potential trade target as we get closer to February’s trade deadline.
HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy contributed to the reporting for this article.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.