Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge has looked like the best free agent signing in the NBA from this past offseason, and it hasn’t been particularly close. Aldridge’s interior defensive presence and weakside rebounding next to Tim Duncan as well his ability to act as a release valve for the San Antonio offense, stretching a defense out to 20+ feet and bullying opposing power forwards in the post have been indispensable to the team’s 22-5 start to the season. But now it appears as though Aldridge’s positive effect on the Spurs this year goes far, far beyond his individual impact on the court.
In advance of San Antonio’s matchup with the Clippers on Friday, their first since falling in the first round of the 2015 Playoffs to Lob City last May, guard Tony Parker spoke with the San Antonio-Express News, revealing that some key members of the Spurs core may have retired had the team failed to lure Aldridge in free agency.
The 33-year-old shed some light on just how up-in-the-air the Spurs’ future seemed after that first round exit. “I wasn’t sure this team would be the same,” said Parker per Emmett Knowlton of Yahoo! Finance. “I thought it was all going to be blown up and changed.
“Everybody knew maybe we could get LaMarcus. There was hope, but at the same time it could’ve gone all wrong. Because if you don’t get him, what do we do?” Parker continued. “It was like playing poker — all in, you know? Meaning, if we get LaMarcus, everybody’s back. If we don’t, I guess everyone will retire.”
Parker’s Big Three counterparts Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, in particular, were the ones who were both rumored to be contemplating retirement after the 2014-15 NBA season. But the 2015 offseason proved a fateful one for the Spurs, who managed to convince Danny Green to re-sign on a team-friendly deal and traded away Tiago Splitter’s contract to the Atlanta Hawks, thus enabling San Antonio to land their man in Aldridge and convince the gang to come back for one final hurrah. Now with the addition of Aldridge, the subsequent signing of veteran big man David West on a minimum deal, and the full-scale emergence of Kawhi Leonard as a go-to crunchtime/isolation scorer, new life has been breathed into the Spurs’ aging core as they look poised for yet another run at the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
For the 30-year-old Aldridge, whose significance to the team now clearly transcends his relatively modest averages of 15.7 points per game and 8.6 rebounds per game, maybe he can start referring to himself now as “The Fish That Saved San Antonio.”
In making his pitch to free agent forward LaMarcus Aldridge, Heat president Pat Riley may have inadvertently driven Aldridge to the San Antonio Spurs.
Yahoo Sports’s Adrian Wojnarowski profiled Aldridge’s free agency, including looks inside all of his meetings with potential suitors. It turns out his meeting with Miami helped him make up his mind to go to San Antonio.
Wojnarowski writes that Aldridge was already very interested in the Spurs, and was impressed with the family atmosphere they gave off during their meeting. However, when Riley requested a meeting, he wanted to hear what he had to say. Riley wanted Aldridge to re-sign with Portland for a season and then join a new-look Miami team in 2016. His pitch, as it turns out, impacted Aldridge greatly.
“He told me, ‘You’re a good player, but you can be great,'” Aldridge told Yahoo. “I’ve had good seasons on my own, but to win, you’ve got to have other big-time guys with you. When you have other guys who are willing to take that sacrifice with you – maybe you all go from averaging 23-24 points to 18-19 points – and you can all do it together.
“He was saying, ‘Hey, you might have to take a lesser role, but at the end of the day, you want to be known as a champion. Champions have to do different things.’ He brought up Chris Bosh, how he was averaging 21 in Toronto, and came to Miami, and people tried to say he wasn’t important. He told me, ‘We don’t win any of those championships rings without him,’ [and] that [Bosh] wouldn’t trade those rings for anything.
“Eventually, it becomes a road in your career, whether you have to decide whether you want to keep having these crazy stats, or do you want to win a championship?”
On the night of July 2, with Popovich returning for a lunch meeting the next day, Riley had delivered an unintended assist to the Spurs. He had turned Aldridge’s mind back toward San Antonio, setting the stage for Popovich to close the deal. “Yeah, the things [Riley] said were definitely more positive for me coming to San Antonio,” Aldridge told Yahoo.
Riley essentially gave the Spurs’ sales pitch for them. They have great players who put egos aside to become even greater than the sum of their parts. They gave Aldridge a chance to win a lot now. Perhaps if San Antonio takes home an NBA title in 2016, they should send Riley a thank you note.
He has yet to even play in a single preseason game for his new team and already offseason San Antonio signee LaMarcus Aldridge is getting his first heavy dose of Spurs-related culture shock.
The four-time All-Star missed Spurs’ practice on Tuesday with a strained IT band (which sounds like something you would find in a server room, but I digress). If it was up to Aldridge, he would have participated. But he was overruled by head coach Gregg Popovich who, per Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News, responded to Aldridge’s reluctance to sit with an all-timer, saying “Welcome to the Spurs.”
Aldridge sat out practice today with strained IT band. Popovich: "He didn't want to. I said, welcome to the Spurs."
Popovich is, of course, the Jedi master of managing player minutes and workloads, so Aldridge must have known to expect a surprise absence or three every now and then when he signed on with the Spurs. Perhaps necessitated by the age of the roster, San Antonio’s arbitrary maintenance system of random player rest has become one of the key pillars of Spurs culture, especially when the team is making an appearance on national television (that sound you just heard was probably David Stern popping a blood vessel). The Spurs won the 2014 NBA Championship despite not having a single player eclipse the 30 minutes per game plateau that year. Even last season, Kawhi Leonard was the only player on San Antonio’s roster to log over 30 minutes per game (31.8), and even that is a conservative number for a springy 23-year-old forward.
At 30 years of age himself, some sporadic rest might not even be a matter of principle for the former Blazer, but rather just for his own good. Aldridge, who saw 35.5 minutes per game in his nine-year career with Portland, including 37.2 in the last five seasons, can likely anticipate a moderately reduced workload for the Spurs next season, both in terms of playing time and touches. But with the hopefully corresponding bumps in efficiency and freshness, he will be exactly potent offensive threat/anti-small ball weapon that San Antonio needs in order to prolong their shelf life even further.
Most of the reasons LaMarcus Aldridge signed with the San Antonio Spurs are obvious — the best coach in the NBA, a tradition of winning, a chance to contend for a championship immediately while play alongside at least one future Hall of Famer. But had it not been for an assistant coach on Gregg Popovich’s staff, Aldridge may have made a different decision.
Ime Udoka, a 38-year-old former NBA player who played with Aldridge in Portland when LaMarcus was a rookie, made an incredibly persuasive pitch to the then-free agent. Not only that, but Udoka got on a plane with Aldridge and flew halfway across the country just to deliver it.
“It (the meeting process) was done. I was down to two teams, Phoenix and the Spurs,” Aldridge recalled. “I thought (Udoka) was staying in San Antonio for the summer, so I was like, ‘Hey, I’ve got a jet going to Dallas. You could get a flight from Dallas to San Antonio (to head home).’ So he was like, ‘Cool.’
“So he gets on the jet, and I’m like, ‘We’re leaving. You should buy your flight (to San Antonio from Dallas) on the plane. Go buy your flight.’ He was like, ‘I ain’t buying no flight.’ I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ He’s like, ‘I live here (in Los Angeles) right now. I’m flying just to answer any questions that you have.’ I was like, ‘Man, you’re crazy.’ I said, ‘Get off the plane.’ He said, ‘No, I’m going to answer any question that you have.’ So I’m like, ‘You don’t have to do this. Don’t do this.’ He’s like, ‘Nah, I’m not getting off.’”
Udoka flew with Aldridge and the 30-year-old’s kids and mom, helping to address any concerns Aldridge might have about joining the Spurs.
“Everybody was making this big fuss about how I’m not going to be able to take shots anymore, or be the scorer that I am, and he was just telling me, ‘We need a guy to score down there. Tim (Duncan) is older, and we need a guy to command a double team down there,’” Aldridge added. “So I was like, ‘Maybe I’m not a Spur, because I’ve been averaging 23 (points per game) for the last three to four years, and maybe I don’t fit into y’all’s system of let’s all average 17 (points per game).’ And he was like, ‘No, we’re not trying to change who you are and make you average 16 or 17. We want you to be you, because you’re going to help us be better and vice versa.’ He kind of reaffirmed that they didn’t want to change me, and that who I am is ok.”
It’s certainly possible that Aldridge would have signed with the Spurs anyway, but Popovich was fortunate to have an assistant with a connection to Aldridge who was willing to help that much during the process.
There are plenty of people who believe that LaMarcus Aldridge had made up his mind about joining the San Antonio Spurs long before he took meetings with other teams. That may have been the case, but it hasn’t made adjusting to a new city any easier for the top prize of the 2015 free agency class.
“I don’t like change,” Aldridge explained. “That’s been a little bit difficult for me, trying to get used to a new city. I got lost like twice yesterday. That’s not fun.
“In the end, it should be great for me. Right now, it’s been tough because everything is so new.”
Aldridge is completely unfamiliar with the area surrounding his new home, which is an unfamiliar feeling in and of itself. He described himself as “mentally drained” after weighing his options earlier this summer and said he has found himself wandering around the streets of San Antonio not knowing what he’s doing.
“I don’t know where to go, I don’t know where anything is,” he said. “It’s like being a rookie all over again.”
Fear not, Spurs fans — Aldridge is spending plenty of time on basketball. The 6-foot-11 forward has studied a ton of film to get a head start on learning Gregg Popovich’s offense, and he is excited about what he sees.
“I see a lot of easy shots,” Aldridge said. “Pop’s really good at misdirection, and the team is so unselfish that the ball moves around.”
Aldridge could have ended up even further from the Portland area had this Eastern Conference team not blown its chance. He may be feeling uncomfortable in a new city, but the potential of the 2015-2016 Spurs roster has to help alleviate that homesick feeling.
Carmelo Anthony believes the New York Knicks had a legitimate chance to sign LaMarcus earlier this offseason. And then they blew it.
While working out with Aldridge at Team USA training camp this week, Anthony says Aldridge told him that he ended up not meeting with the Knicks because the team envisioned him playing strictly center. Carmelo was shocked.
Carmelo was supposedly “playful and smiling” while he made the headband comment, but that would seem to indicate that there is some disconnect between him and Phil Jackson. Anthony insists that is not the case.
“I didn’t go to the meetings but I knew everything that was going on,” he said. “Phil (Jackson) went out there and did their job. I tried to do my job on my end, we kept it at that, if it was time to sign somebody. But Phil’s the president. He do what he want to do.
“I think we could have gotten LaMarcus. I believe, the conversations me and him had, it was a big chance that he was going to end up in New York. So I don’t really know where the playing the center position came in. I know from when I was talking to him we had a greater shot of getting him.”
LaMarcus Aldridge may have chosen not to sign with the New York Knicks this offseason for a variety of reasons. But according to a new report, the tipping point may have been the team’s unflinching commitment to play No. 4 overall pick Kristaps Porzingis at Aldridge’s desired power forward position.
“They were saying they wanted me to be more of a center to let their guy (Porzingis) develop and I just wasn’t looking to be that,” said Aldridge. “So I was looking to play power forward, and they weren’t really interested.”
The 4-time All-Star continued, “If they’re going to tell me that I have to play center and I don’t want to play center, then of course it’s mutual after that. But before that I was excited to meet with them. I was interested. But they wanted to have their draft pick play and I get it.”
Aldridge also mentioned that he was in contact with Knicks star Carmelo Anthony during the process.
“Melo and I talked a little bit over text and we have mutual friends that passed messages along. I was interested,” Aldridge said. “I talked to other guys to see if they were interested in going there too. I was interested but when they say they want me to play a position that I don’t want to play, I get it.”
Aldridge’s desire to play the 4 instead of the 5 was well-known amongst his free agent suitors. But selling Porzingis and his development down the river by either nailing him to the bench or having him play out of position to chase an Aldridge pipe dream would have been a horribly short-sighted decision.
Plus, even if they capitulated to Aldridge’s positional demands, the chance the Knicks would be able to land him would still be remote. The team went 17-65 last season and in ultimately signing with the Spurs, Aldridge proved that winning was his biggest priority.
In the end, it was wise of the Knicks to only pursue Aldridge if he fit into their plans, not the other way around. Now, the 30-year-old Aldridge is poised for title contention in San Antonio and Porzingis is free to thrive with all the minutes he can handle at the 4 in Madison Square (with the occasional help from Melo as a small-ball 4). It looks like this all worked out for the best for everyone.
The San Antonio Spurs were the frontrunner to sign LaMarcus Aldridge from the start of free agency, and eventually the expected happened. Aldridge still met with other teams, but why did he cancel on the New York Knicks?
“About the New York Knicks, they told me that they wanted me to play strictly [center],” he said, per Lang Greene of Basketball Insiders. “So they didn’t want to meet with me. People was saying it was me, but it was both parties agreeing that we shouldn’t meet.”
Aldridge is 6-foot-11, but he sees himself as a power forward — not a center. When you stop and think about it, that’s probably why he passed on both the Lakers and the Knicks.
One of the reasons Aldridge didn’t enjoy his first meeting with the Lakers was that he reportedly didn’t mesh well with Kobe Bryant. Kobe said he envisioned Aldridge playing a Pau Gasol-type role, and Gasol is a center. Gasol had some of his best seasons when he played under Phil Jackson in L.A. Jackson is now in charge of basketball operations with the Knicks.
You see where this is going.
The Spurs, on the other hand, seemed to speak Aldridge’s language from the start.
“It’s not going to be any different than Portland as far as minutes because I just turned 30,” Aldridge said of playing in San Antonio. “So for them, I’m really young. Compared to Tim [Duncan] and Manu [Ginobili], I’m really young. So (Gregg Popovich is) going to try and manage my minutes, but I’m still going to play a lot.”
LaMarcus Aldridge made the Spurs among the winners of the NBA’s offseason when he joined them on a four-year deal worth $80 million. The move brought to an end his time with the Blazers, the team he spent the first nine seasons of his career playing for.
While the Spurs were seen as the favorite throughout the process, most of America found out the news of Aldridge’s decision to make it official at the same time. Former teammate Damian Lillard wasn’t in that group. He already knew what the four-time All-Star was going to do.
“We basically exchanged texts about how much admiration we have for each other,” Lillard said via Sporting News. “That change wasn’t about me. I did express that I wanted him to be back. I told him I respected his decision. I respected that he told me before the news broke and I saw it on TV.”
It’s tough to argue with the decision LaMarcus Aldridge made. There were reports he was uncomfortable with the Blazers pushing Lillard as the face of the franchise. However, based on Lillard’s comments, going to San Antonio wasn’t about him. Aldridge is from Texas and being close to family and friends was important to him. And, obviously, San Antonio gives him a great opportunity to compete for a championship.
Portland, on the other hand, will look drastically different this upcoming season, with Lillard the only starter from a year ago remaining. Wes Matthews is now with the Mavericks. Nicolas Batum was traded to the Hornets. Aldridge signed with the Spurs and Robin Lopez is now a member of the Knicks.
Bruce Bowen retired from the NBA after the 2009 season, but he’s still making sacrifices for his old team six years later.
Bowen granted the San Antonio Spurs permission to un-retire his No. 12 jersey so that new free agent acquisition LaMarcus Aldridge could wear it.
“You want LaMarcus to feel part of the family,” Bowen told the San Antonio Express-News. “If I can have a hand in that, shoot, why not? I don’t play anymore.”
Bowen’s jersey was retired three years ago by the organization to honor his outstanding play with the team. A defensive stalwart, Bowen helped the Spurs win three championships and was named first-team All-NBA defense five times.
Rather than be egotistical and throw a fit, he wants the Spurs to welcome Aldridge and continue winning.
“I hope it helps (Aldridge) feel comfortable,” Bowen said. “If he’s comfortable, the sky’s the limit for him here. It’s one less thing he has to worry about.”
Aldridge wore No. 12 in all nine of his NBA seasons in Portland. Though he did not make the number one of his conditions to sign with the team, he’ll probably be happy to continue wearing it. And if a simple phone call was all that was needed to get him his number, then he certainly got off easily — at least compared to this guy.