As the NBA playoffs draws nearer to the Finals, the teams that didn’t make it to the dance are already focused on next season and what moves they’ll be making in the offseason. For one such team – the San Antonio Spurs – they find themselves at a crossroads: do they keep veteran players to try and remain playoff contenders or roll the dice with the younger players, let them develop and see where they take the team?
With the continued improvements in play from Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker IV it has allowed the Spurs to strongly consider giving the reigns to them and letting the veterans play on another contending team. It also opens doors for them in 2021 when Giannis Antetokounmpo hits the NBA free agent market. And while other articles state which teams currently are in the running for his services, we can’t count out the Spurs just yet. A lot can happen in another year, and for a guy like Giannis (who prefers the quieter life like Tim Duncan) coming to a team like the Spurs might be better suited for him. Having a legendary coach like Popovich, talented teammates entering their primes and the salary to make him happy could prove enticing. But first, dealing with the veterans currently on the roster must be taken care of first.
For DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, they have done an incredible job keeping the team afloat amidst everything that has gone on since the Kawhi Leonard debacle. Spurs fans and the organization are grateful for that and, as the team appears primed to embrace the youth movement, they know the two veteran stars deserve another shot at winning a title. For the big man, in particular, Aldridge has been linked to several teams; including the Portland Trailblazers whom he’s stated in the past to wanting to go back to one day. Could that day come this year?
If the Spurs are able to collaborate with the Blazers and one other team, the following trade could be a great deal for all parties involved (draft picks not included in this deal):
Spurs Trade: LaMarcus Aldridge (POR)
Spurs Receive: Steven Adams (OKC)
Trailblazers Trade: Hassan Whiteside (OKC)
Trailblazers Receive: LaMarcus Aldridge (SA)
Thunder Trade: Steven Adams (SA)
Thunder Receive: Hassan Whiteside (POR)
For the Blazers
The prodigal son returns! After leaving Portland and Damien Lillard – whom Aldridge did not have a good relationship with at that time – years later he repaired those bridges with the All-Star point guard thus re-opening the opportunity to come back to the team that drafted him out of Texas. Not only would Portland gain back a beloved player, but also another All-Star power forward to pair with Lillard and CJ McCollum. With Aldridge expanding his game to take more 3-pointers, it allows the guards to drive & kick out but can still rely on the power forward’s post-game if needed.
It also clears up a logjam of Nurkic, Collins, and Whiteside. Portland no longer has to think about a Nurkic/Whiteside court pairing, as Aldridge is better able to step out of the paint and allow Nurkic space inside. He would also be an upgrade over Zach Collins, who is still developing his skills and can provide energy off the bench. Having another reliable scorer, a 3rd star on the team, would be great for Portland as it contends for the title. But what makes it even better is being able to bring a Blazer icon back home.
For the Thunder
Similar to the Spurs, sometimes a fresh start is needed. After dismissing Head Coach Billy Donovan, OKC is in search of a new coach to lead the team. That new coach will follow suit to the organization and realize starting over is best, and it starts with creating a team that fits with it’s identity. What that identity is, we don’t know yet but it’s more than certain not to include pricey veterans. Chris Paul has been linked to several teams including the Knicks and the Bucks, while Adams’ name not as much. . . yet.
Being able to unload salary and bring in new players will help OKC in the long run as it tries to find it’s stars of the future. They know what they already have, and it hasn’t worked out for them. Whiteside – who’s contract expires at the end of this season – may find the free agent market a bit dry due to COVID-19 potentially impacting salary caps. The Blazers may feel compelled to re-sign him to have a veteran presence in the event an injury occurs to the frontcourt. But with Aldridge coming to the team, they can flip him to OKC on a team friendly short-term deal that benefits both parties. For Whiteside, he’ll have a decent contract that is short-term which will allow him to try to find a better long-term deal that isn’t affected by COVID-19. It also frees him from the logjam of big men up in Portland, and he no longer has to compete for minutes against Nurkic and Collins. He can be a focal point for a team that’s trying to find it’s next identity, and wouldn’t mind a scoring/blocking big coming to town.
For the Thunder, it’s a short-term experiment to see what they can get out of this. Unloading their established veterans not only can bring in some unmentioned picks for the future, but may even find gems to take with them – including Whiteside. If it doesn’t work, they can move on from the deal without worry, and if it does then they have a foundation to build upon that won’t take as much money as would Paul or Adams ask for. This is starting over not only for a team looking to create a new identity, but for a player looking to rediscover his own.
For the Spurs
Last, but not least, we’ve come to the team that started this whole trade scenario. After 22 straight years of post-season berths, 2020’s weird year included an early vacation for the Spurs. But a promising run in the Orlando bubble, led by White and KJ, showed the Spurs trust that the future is bright and it could come sooner than expected. They won’t be title contenders this coming year, but they could be playoff bound again within the next 3 years if development and key signings occur. I’ll spare the Giannis-to-SA talks (for now) until next offseason, but 2021 will bring bigger cap space to the Spurs to go out and sign free agents that can compliment the Guards of the Alamo.
Next season should see the switch from the iso-heavy reliance of Aldridge and DeRozan, and focus more on ball-movement and input from the youths. However, having a sturdy presence in the middle of the paint not only helps offensively but defensively as well. The defense of the Spurs hasn’t been elite since the mid-to-late 2000s, and going back to that focus while the Spurs youth develop into more reliable scorers might be best.
They’re already off to a good start with White and Murray clamping down the guard spots, with Johnson slowly coming along at the 3 spot with his tenacity. Jakob Poetl is still undecided about his future and, even if he came back, having another reliable big to set screens and swat shots is always welcome. Insert Adams, who can come in and start for the team and allow the backcourt to drive around screens or lob it up for the New Zealander to finish.
While the Spurs look to stretch the power forward spot, it’s important to have a big body in the paint to be able to snatch rebounds and make life uncomfortable to anyone trying to drive in. Adams definitely fits that build at 7’0″ and 250 lbs., and at 27 years old is entering the prime of his career. That matches up well with the Spurs timeline, with youth leader White being 26 years old and Murray at 23 years old. While the Spurs get younger, they maintain veteran presence with Adams and no longer have to worry about lack of big bodies at Center.
He’ll fit the timeline for the franchise, and even makes San Antonio a potential big player in 2021 free agency and beyond. With White and Murray locked in at guards, Walker IV expected to make huge jumps (if not start at SG), and Keldon Johnson being a pleasant surprise this soon at the SF spot, locking down the Center spot with Adams leaves one spot open that a big name (Ben Simmons, Gordon Hayward, Aaron Gordon, Giannis?) could fill in and instantly make the Spurs playoff contenders. If Pop sticks around for that season, it also adds to the free agency decisions, but it starts with what happens this offseason. Dealing with it’s current veterans is priority #1 that should involve bringing in players, such as Adams, who are younger and can help build towards the next contending team. The future is promising in the Alamo City and, with a trade like this, the road back to relevancy may be a lot shorter than expected.