One would think that the story-driven nature of sports coverage would lend itself more readily to development. People—and things—are always changing. Such is the subtext of LaMarcus Aldridge’s three-year contract extension with the Spurs, an organization that had been as disappointed in his play as Aldridge had been in his role. The relationship between player and team was strained. San Antonio had explored its options for trading Aldridge in recent months, and landed instead on committing to him through the 2020-21 season.
No franchise makes this kind of decision lightly, least of all the Spurs. This is a front office that charts out possibilities upon possibilities to the slightest detail. Much of their success is owed to their collective diligence. It’s clear that Aldridge is no Spurs official’s idea of a perfect vehicle for contending with the Warriors, but the ease of finding a better option is widely overstated. The discussion around Aldridge would lead you to believe that skilled, smart, mobile bigs are 1) available, 2) financially viable within the Spurs’ cap picture, and 3) lining up to play in San Antonio. They are not.
San Antonio didn’t exactly get the version of Aldridge they had hoped for upon first signing him in 2015. Now, every limitation is above board. The Spurs know what Aldridge cannot do and what bothers him. Gregg Popovich has heard out his star forward and heeded his preferences, and out of those conversations came enough comfort for a three-year pact. Things can change. Let’s not pretend that an unhappy player cannot be satisfied, or a disenchanted franchise could not be given reason for renewed confidence. Everything that goes on between a player and a basketball team is an extended negotiation. As of Monday, both sides saw enough positive movement to continue their working relationship.
Aldridge gets an extra two seasons (though the second is only partially guaranteed, according to ESPN) of big money to play for one of the West’s best teams. The Spurs, for their part, continue to build. Kawhi Leonard’s basketball prime is no time to futz around with the dream of an Aldridge upgrade. You keep Aldridge, you explore your options, and you try to make good on the groundwork laid against Golden State last season. There is something to the way San Antonio stood its ground in that matchup across the flickers of regular season play and the opening bout of their playoff series, before Leonard’s injury effectively ended it. Now the Spurs are guaranteed to explore it fully.
The organization that wrings more value out of continuity than any other in the league has seen underwhelming returns from Aldridge over the last two seasons and signed up for more. Part of the justification dates back to the summer, when new contracts for Pau Gasol and Patty Mills, among others, ate into San Antonio’s future cap room. Aldridge’s extension leans in the same direction – first by cementing the $22.4 million Aldridge is owed next season (it had previously been subject to a player option), and then by adding years of salary on top of it. What’s lost is largely hypothetical; it becomes incrementally more difficult now for the Spurs to land Leonard a superstar teammate.
Aldridge will never fill that void. He could, however, give San Antonio a bit more of what it needs in the matchups that matter most. There’s still time for Aldridge to change. The Spurs have seen to that.