How did LaMarcus Aldridge go from unsatisfied and out of place with the San Antonio Spurs to happily extended, all in the span of one offseason?
By asking Gregg Popovich to trade him, of course.
No, that’s not a joke. It’s serious. As the Spurs’ head coach told reporters, Aldridge is not only still in San Antonio, but locked up through 2020-21, because of a dialogue that began over the summer…with a trade request (via ESPN.com’s Michael C. Wright):
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked what helped to bring about LaMarcus Aldridge’s resurgence: “When he said, ‘I want to be traded.’ It’s as simple as that. I said, ‘Woah, nobody’s ever said that to me before.’ It’s my 20-whatever year, and nobody’s ever said that like, ‘I’m not enjoying this. I’m not confident. I’m not sure you want me here. I want to be traded.'” Popovich was asked if that conversation took place after the season. “Yes, yes. I thought that’s already been public? So, we had some dinners and meetings and laughed. I was very candid with him. I told him, ‘I’d be happy to trade you. You get me a talent like Kevin Durant, and I’ll drive you to the airport. I’ll pack your bags. And I will drive you there, get you on the plane, and get you seated.’ He laughed you know, that kind of thing. I said, ‘But short of that, I’m your best buddy because you’re here for another year, and you ain’t going nowhere. Because we’re not gonna get for you talent-wise what we would want. So, let’s figure this thing out.’ And we did. That’s what we came to. As discussions went on, it became apparent to me that it really was me. He’s been playing in the league for nine years. I’m not going to turn him into some other player. I could do some things defensively or rebounding-wise. But on offense, I was going to move him everywhere. That was just silly on my part. Total overcoaching. So, we took care of it, and he’s been fantastic.”
I mean, damn. Talk about a reverse effect.
Whatever else was said between Pop and Aldridge, it appears to be working wonders. The latter has become the offense’s focal point in the absence of Kawhi Leonard, and though the Spurs have struggled, at times, to get buckets on a consistent basis, they’re a different team with Aldridge on the court.
When he’s in the game, they’re scoring 107.2 points per 100 possessions, akin to a top-10 offensive rating, according to NBA.com. When he sits, they’re dropping a mere 100.2 points per 100 possessions, which would rank 28th overall, just in front of the Chicago Bulls and Sacramento Kings.
This doesn’t necessarily mean Aldridge will be worth the three-year, $72.3 million extension he signed over the summer. He’s 32, and the game is moving away from more traditional bigs like himself. But the Spurs are masters of running out dual-big lineups, and Aldridge’s body-friendly game should continue to age well. Plus, the final year of his deal, in 2020-21, is only guaranteed for $7 million.
More to the point, Aldridge is a pivotal part of the Spurs’ survival now—not just out of necessity, but because he straight out aired his grievances in a way that was, until this past summer, foreign to Pop and crew.