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LaMarcus Aldridge is the latest name to join the list of potentially washed-up former NBA stars who are currently sitting out, awaiting either a trade or a buyout from their current team.
As San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich divulged Wednesday night, Aldridge will not be with the team moving forward, as the two sides mutually agreed that it’s time to go their separate ways. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports the Spurs are trying to work out a trade scenario and are optimistic they can do so, but according to The New York Times’ Marc Stein, if they can’t, they’ll most likely turn to buyout scenarios.
Before it turns into a free-agency feeding frenzy for the league’s top teams, however, there are a few teams in the middle (or the bottom) who could make a decent offer for Aldridge’s services. Lining up a perfect deal is tough, considering we’re talking about a 35-year-old on a $24 million expiring contract, and from Aldridge’s perspective, if this is a “mutual” decision, he’d much rather get a buyout and have his choice of suitors from the NBA’s contenders.
But if the Spurs prioritize the potential return over LMA’s preferred destinations, that opens the door to a few extra suitors. Here are five potential Aldridge deals — some of which would be good for San Antonio, some of which would be good for both parties.
5. Miami Heat
Spurs get: Kelly Olynyk, Meyers Leonard and a second-round pick
Heat get: LaMarcus Aldridge
As a guy who’s missed most of the season due to shoulder surgery, Meyers Leonard had little use to the Miami Heat before he dropped an antisemitic slur on a Call of Duty live stream. What better time to jettison him, along with Kelly Olynyk to match salaries, and attach a second-round pick as a sweetener?
The Heat are reportedly in the mix for LMA, which would require either that Leonard-Olynyk combination that leaves Miami short one big, or some other deal involving Andre Iguodala. Giving up Iggy for this version of Aldridge might be risky, as is even giving up Olynyk, but the potential free-agency savings are worth it for a team trying to find some kind of X-factor. As for the Spurs, they may be able to do better than this offer … even if Olynyk in Pop’s system would be fun, and a second-round pick is better than buying Aldridge out for nothing.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers
Spurs get: Andre Drummond
Cavaliers get: LaMarcus Aldridge
I mean … f**k it. Let’s get weird.
The Spurs are 22nd in offensive rebounds and 25th in second-chance points this season. You know who might help shore up one of these areas for improvement? A dominant rebounder like Andre Drummond, who is averaging the third-most offensive rebounds in the league at 4.0 per game. Even if he’s not a long-term fit in San Antonio, he’d be a temporary boon for the young core, and even if his half-season there went badly, who cares? He’s an expiring contract!
As for the Cleveland Cavaliers, they get rid of a guy they weren’t playing anyway and avoid this situation getting toxic. Aldridge probably wouldn’t be thrilled to join this Eastern Conference bottom-feeder, but maybe as a seasoned vet, he’d have some nuggets of wisdom to impart on the youngsters before immediately bolting in free agency? I don’t know. I told you this one was weird. Moving on!
3. Orlando Magic
Spurs get: Aaron Gordon and James Ennis
Magic get: LaMarcus Aldridge and future first-round draft pick
Spurs get: Nikola Vucevic
Magic get: LaMarcus Aldridge, Keldon Johnson and 2021 first-round pick
Either the Orlando Magic aren’t kidding around about wanting to keep Nikola Vucevic despite it being VERY clear this team needs to blow it up, or they’re sending a subliminal message: Send us better offers or get lost. Because that’s currently unclear, we had to present two different options.
In the first trade, Orlando gets rid of a guy who’s been on the block for years now, shedding the remaining year and $16.4 million on Aaron Gordon’s contract for Aldridge’s expiring salary, pocketing a future first-rounder in the process. The Spurs, meanwhile, add a 25-year-old with plenty of two-way potential to their young core on a trial basis. They’d have another whole year to evaluate him, and Gordon is the best player named in any of these trades that actually fits their timeline.
If the Magic feel they can do better for Gordon, or the Spurs want to go for the home run swing, the second deal is another possibility. Orlando has reportedly set the asking price for their two-time All-Star at “high,” but that could just be posturing. Keldon Johnson has been a terrific young piece for San Antonio, and the 2021 NBA Draft is loaded; snagging him and an unprotected first in such a draft is a good little haul for a 30-year-old with two years left on his contract like Vucevic. If the Spurs have to throw in Lonnie Walker IV or another first-rounder, that’s where things might get tricky, but having an established interior scorer and stretch-big like Vooch would be a major asset to this inexperienced San Antonio squad as they approach their first playoff run together.
2. Chicago Bulls
Spurs get: Otto Porter Jr. and second-round draft pick
Bulls get: LaMarcus Aldridge
Again, yet another team that’s worse than the Spurs that Aldridge would be getting traded to, but at least the Chicago Bulls are right in the hunt for a playoff spot! They could also offer him a role to give their league-average offense a little more “oomph.” All it’d really cost them is Otto Porter Jr., a wing/small-ball 4 who’s only played 16 games this season anyway.
As for the Spurs, Porter is a gamble given his shaky production and health over the last two-and-a-half years, but he’s still only 27 years old, was a revelation when he first arrived in Chicago, and even if he crashed and burned, his $28.5 million salary expires at season’s end. Plus, that worst-case scenario is exactly what the second-round pick is for!
1. Boston Celtics
Spurs get: Tristan Thompson and second-round draft pick
Celtics get: LaMarcus Aldridge
The Boston Celtics have that massive $28.5 million trade exception at their disposal, and while they should totally use it on Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes, this is another potential option. They have to send out some salary to avoid being hard-capped at $138 million, but a trade like this would add a proven performer like Aldridge without having to cut into the team’s rotation or cornerstone pieces. For a 19-17 team in a bit of a funk, LMA’s experience, basketball I.Q. and scoring touch could be the X-factor the Celtics need.
Squeezing a first-rounder out of Boston would be ideal, but it ain’t happening for San Antonio. A second-rounder is probably the best they can hope for, but Spurs fans shouldn’t overlook the playoff experience and aggressive rebounding that Tristan Thompson would bring to the table for this young group without taking the ball out of the youngsters’ hands. Sure, he still has a year and $9.7 million left on his contract after this season, but that’s a small price to pay for a player who, theoretically, might be an even better fit for this group on paper than Aldridge was.