"LaMarcus Aldridge could be traded by the deadline."
"LaMarcus Aldridge may have already played his final full season with the San Antonio Spurs."
Here's the thing about the speculation surrounding last season's biggest free agent acquisition: This situation isn't unique to LaMarcus Aldridge or the Spurs. You literally could replace Aldridge's name with any number of superstars who signed big deals prior to this past offseason because of the way the NBA salary cap is changing.
Prior to the 2015-2016 season, Aldridge signed a max deal when the salary cap was set at $70 million. This past season, the salary cap was raised to a little more than $93 million.
Next season, the number is expected to reach about $102 million.
All of this means that teams will have the flexibility to go after high-paid stars using assets and other large contracts to offset the cost because just about everyone can afford it.
But here's the other thing: The Spurs would have to play terrible basketball while Aldridge was playing well in order to justify even considering offers for Aldridge.
While the Spurs lost in the Western Conference semifinals last season, they still had the second-best regular season record in the NBA. The stories emerging about Aldridge are based on the premise that San Antonio would play so badly before the February trade deadline that they'd take offers for Aldridge.
Last season, the Spurs were 14-4 at the end of November, 28-6 at the end of December, and 39-8 at the end of January. Throughout that time, they never lost a home game.
And remember, this is playing under the Gregg Popovich coaching style in which stars are benched for rest and the Spurs are basically throwing away games to save players for the postseason. So the Spurs probably were even BETTER than their record suggests.
So while nobody can entirely dismiss the possibility that it COULD happen, the likelihood of the Spurs suddenly falling from perennial championship contenders to sellers at the trade deadline in less than half a season seems far-fetched at best.
Also, the Spurs plummeting down the NBA hierarchy would have to be based on their play and not on injuries, because the team isn't going to go into panic mode and risk the long-term future of the franchise to improve their regular season record when the players will heal up for the following season.
On top of that, Aldridge would have to play well despite the Spurs being so bad if they wanted to get proper value back for him. And the Spurs aren't the type of team to sell a guy like Aldridge for 50 cents or even 75 cents on the dollar.
Last season, Aldridge was the seventh-best player in terms of defensive rating in the NBA, according to advanced statistics. He was also ranked No. 12 in win shares and No. 9 in win shares per 48 minutes.
So let's recap everything that probably would need to happen in order for the Spurs to want to trade Aldridge:
- Spurs play very poorly (like near .500), but not because of injuries, by January
- Aldridge still plays really well despite the team's record
- A team offers so much young, cheap talent (plus picks) that the Spurs can't say no to improving the team's long-term championship future
Sure, it COULD happen, but for a team coming off a 67-15 regular season record that signed Pau Gasol to replace Tim Duncan, it seems highly unlikely.