Speculation on where free agent forward LaMarcus Aldridge will wind up has run rampant since the NBA’s free agency period began on July 1. Everyone has an opinion. And while most opinions surmise that Aldridge will end up in San Antonio with the Spurs, there’s no doubt the Phoenix Suns have worked themselves into an enviable position for the four-time All-Star.
But how enviable is the question.
ESPN Insider and NBA analyst Kevin Pelton joined Jon Bloom and Tim Kempton filling in for Doug & Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Friday to discuss that very question.
“It’s hard for me to see Phoenix over San Antonio, because San Antonio with LaMarcus Aldridge, to me, would be right in the mix with Golden State and the best teams in the Western Conference, however that shakes out after free agency,” Pelton said. “I think Phoenix with him would be a 50-win team in all likelihood — possibly in the low 50s — but probably in a relatively similar spot to where the Blazers were the last couple years with Aldridge.
“It would still be a pretty big single-season jump from where they were a year ago. Part of it is that you’d have to give up, in all likelihood, Markieff Morris to make that happen. They did shed a little bench depth with Marcus Morris the other day, but it’s still obviously a move the Suns would be thrilled to make.”
Finding trading partners for Morris doesn’t figure to be a chore either, as Pelton believes the Suns could find a number of suitors who would jump at the chance to add a quality big man at an affordable price.
“I think the big thing with him if you’re looking at him is a trade asset; his contract is phenomenal for the next four years with that extension he signed last October,” Pelton said. “If you look at the rising cap with the way free agency has played out so far, paying him less than $10 million a year looks terrific for teams. I think they’d have no problem whatsoever moving him and getting value for him in that situation. I think there are probably some teams that view him as an average starting power forward or better in this league.”
The Suns, however, aren’t operating in vacuum. There is of course the Spurs, who have been the prohibitive favorite throughout and who also have options of their own when it comes to signing Aldridge to max deal. As Pelton mentions, the critical hurdle for San Antonio is figuring out how they can accommodate veterans such as Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.
“It really depends how much Tim Duncan is willing to sacrifice on his next contract,” Pelton said. “Trading Tiago Splitter to Atlanta the other day on the first day of free agency enabled San Antonio to get about $27 million under the cap if they renounce everyone depending on where [the cap] falls. It would be about $25 million I should say. They would have enough money to sign LaMarcus Aldridge for the max, and then give around $6 million to Duncan and give a little bit less than $3 million to Manu Ginobili using their room exception. It’s really all contingent on those guys.
“That’s obviously way below market what those players could get, and even below what Tim Duncan was playing for last year when he was already taking a discount, but if they really want to play with LaMarcus Aldridge, the Spurs can make it work.”
But would Duncan and Ginobili be willing to take less money to make room for Aldridge?
“We’ve already seen it play out this week where Danny Green took a four-year, $45 million offer. I think he’s a better free agent than DeMarre Carroll, who got $60 million over that same span from Toronto…if [the Spurs] managed to figure that all out — with Tim Duncan part of the [Aldridge] recruiting trip — presumably they have a pretty good sense of what he’s willing to do, but there may be another move or two down the line. Patty Mills is a guy where trading him as their backup point guard would save another $3 million or so. The worst case scenario is you trade Boris Diaw, which would really cut in to your big man depth after losing Splitter. I think one way or another, the way the Spurs have been so aggressive, they’ve got things pretty well planned out.”
There’s also the issue of Aldridge wanting to play with an established rim protector, something the Suns have that the Spurs don’t after reportedly agreeing to a deal with center Tyson Chandler on Wednesday. According to Pelton, beyond next season, the Spurs future at the position is murky.
“It’s Duncan in the short term,” Pelton said. “In the long term, that becomes a bigger question. Maybe they’ve tried to sell [Aldridge] on Nikola Milutinov, the guy they drafted in the first round the other day who will not be coming over to play for them this season. Or maybe they have some plans for adding that in free agency in future years, but I think that’s how Phoenix had worked their way into this conversation. It was so important to get that Tyson Chandler deal done before going to pitch Aldridge.”