Prior to the 2017 NBA Draft, there were rumors that the San Antonio Spurs were shopping LaMarcus Aldridge. Those reports seem to make more sense now that head coach Greg Popovich has admitted the power forward asked to be dealt.
Popovich was taken aback by the request from Aldridge, who had just completed his second season with the team. Aldridge signed with San Antonio as a free agent in the summer of 2015 after spending his first nine seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers.
“I said, ‘Whoa, nobody's ever said that to me before,”’ Popovich recalled upon Aldridge telling him he wanted to play elsewhere, via ESPN.com. “It's my 20-whatever year, and nobody's ever said that, like, ‘I'm not enjoying this. I'm not confident. I'm not sure you want me here. I want to be traded.’”
The Spurs were swept by the Golden State Warriors in the 2017 Western Conference Finals, and they reached the second round of the playoffs in 2016. Even though Aldridge was experiencing the most team success he ever had in his career, his own numbers were suffering.
In each of his last two seasons with Portland, Aldridge averaged more than 23 points and 10 rebounds per game. In his first two years with San Antonio, he didn’t average more than 18 points or 8.5 rebounds per contest.
Aldridge struggled the most in last year’s playoffs. While Kawhi Leonard carried the team past the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets, the veteran big man no longer looked like one of the NBA’s top players. He averaged 16.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game in the postseason, failing to have much of an impact when an injury forced Leonard to miss most of the conference finals.
Trading Aldridge might have made sense if the Spurs could get equal value in return, but that wasn’t the case.
“I was very candid with him,” Popovich said. “I told him, ‘I'd be happy to trade you. You get me a talent like Kevin Durant, and I'll drive you to the airport. I'll pack your bags. And I will drive you there, get you on the plane, and get you seated.’”
Popovich admits that he was “overcoaching” Aldridge, and changing that has resulted in better numbers for the forward. Without Leonard for much of the year, Aldridge has helped keep the Spurs near the top of the West standings, averaging 22.6 points and 8.6 rebounds in 41 games.
Halfway through the 2017-2018 season, San Antonio is 2.5 games behind Houston for the No.2 seed in the conference.