Just one year after being the hottest name in free agency, LaMarcus Aldridge is now the hottest name on the rumor mill. This past week, ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan and Zach Lowe both brought up the idea of San Antonio trading its All-Star big man, a believable scenario if chemistry issues really exist, given how swiftly the Spurs like to rectify them. If these murmurs are true, Aldridge will likely have suitors in Phoenix, Washington, Detroit and many others. But there is one trading partner that can offer the rare chance at a perfect win-win deal in a straight star-for-star swap. If these rumors are true, the Spurs should trade Aldridge for the Utah Jazz’s Derrick Favors.
There’s little chance this actually happens, of course. The Spurs would have to want to deal Aldridge, 28 other teams would have to offer worse packages and the Jazz would have to flip the script on their own identity. Utah has yet to see how this core performs fully healthy with added depth, and is committed to keeping chemistry intact:
However, things change quickly in the NBA, and both teams have strong reasons for wanting the other’s power forward. A one-for-one swap checks out salary-wise on ESPN’s Trade Machine, so all that’s left is breaking down why San Antonio and Utah should make this happen.
If the Spurs want to deal Aldridge, it would have to be a chemistry-driven move. San Antonio won 67 games last year, and losing in the second round was mostly not on Aldridge. But replacing the retired (still feels weird) Tim Duncan with Pau Gasol could put more of the defensive heap on Aldridge, and if he and Gasol are getting burned by opposing teams, suddenly there’s a basketball reason to deal him. Not to mention Aldridge is 31-years-old, while Kawhi Leonard, the future of the franchise, is 25. Trading for Favors starts looking interesting when it allows you to get a co-star of the exact same age as your number one guy.
Favors doesn’t just fit San Antonio’s timeline, but its culture and style of play too. Nobody can say a negative thing about Favors, and his quiet dominance treads the same line as Duncan’s and Leonard’s. On the court, it’s a picture perfect match. Favors’s best skill is his defense, something the Spurs pride themselves on. He finished as one of just six players to average 1.1 steals and 1.4 blocks per game last season, and allowed just 47.7 percent shooting when defending the rim, among the likes of Anthony Davis and Amir Johnson. He isn’t the greatest leaper, but always knows where to be, which lets his length and mobility take it from there. The Spurs can use a big that can defend fours, fives, and switches:
Favors is no Aldridge offensively, but can give you an efficient 16 points per game in a number of ways. He’s a scrapper on the offensive boards, can dive on pick-and-rolls, post up and has range out to 16 feet. He isn’t the focal point of the offense in Utah, but he can read defenses, make the right pass, and doesn’t turn it over, which is well-suited for San Antonio’s pass-happy motion offense:
In Favors, the Spurs get a well-rounded, defense-first sidekick that better matches their lead star’s ascent. But what do the Jazz get in Aldridge?
Last season, Utah’s biggest flaws were depth and point guard play, but the Jazz have since traded for George Hill and compiled a slew of veterans to double down on every position. There are few reasons to think this team can’t win 50 games, but getting to contention territory, especially with the Warriors, Cavaliers, Spurs and Clippers out there, will be a challenge. The Jazz have more in common with the Boston Celtics than those teams, lacking sheer star-power but making up for that with pieces that fit and a strong team defense. Aldridge can be the player that pushes them over the top.
Utah finished with the eighth-best defense last season, but fell squarely in the middle of the league on offense. When it came down to crunch-time, the Jazz were 14-28 in games within a five-point margin with five minutes to go. They ranked in the bottom third offensively during those stretches. Enter Aldridge, a five-time All-Star that can give you 20 points a night easy, and steps it up come the postseason. He’d be the Jazz’s most capable isolation scorer by a mile, able to score in the low and mid-posts, while potentially spreading the floor if asked to shoot more threes. That last one is big, with Utah’s three-point rate in the upper half of the league and Favors clocking out in the mid-range. Come the playoffs, where teams will jump on any identifiable flaw, and the Jazz will want to have Aldridge doing this when opponents decide to switch and force one-on-ones:
Concerns over how Aldridge fits in a team-oriented offense and how far Utah’s defense falls with him in the lineup are easily quelled when you look at the Spurs. They won 67 games with Aldridge playing in a motion system, and boasted one of the best regular season defenses in modern NBA history.
Win-win trades come once in a blue moon in the NBA, less often than that between two upper-echelon teams. But if the Spurs truly want to move on from Aldridge, and the Jazz feel vulnerable on the offensive end, there could be a perfect trade in the making.