Spurs big man LaMarcus Aldridge is having perhaps the most efficient season of his career while standing in for Kawhi Leonard as San Antonio’s main dude. While the Warriors and Rockets are in an arms race to see who can shoot 100 threes in a game first, the Spurs are sneakily right there in the mix behind Houston. They’re winning more games then they should based on their talent, which is as it has always been and as it always will be until the sun mercifully swallows the Earth. However, things were not so rosy this summer. Aldridge never quite looked comfortable in San Antonio over the course of his first two seasons, and according to Gregg Popovich, he actually asked for a trade this summer.
Speaking to reporters before last night’s rare loss to the Lakers, Popovich acknowledged that things came to a head after Aldridge struggled in the 2016-17 playoffs. Aldridge said he felt like Popovich didn’t want him on his team, and asked to be traded. Unfortunately, the Spurs were in no position to flip Aldridge, so it was up to Pop to repair the relationship:
“So we had some dinners and meetings and laughed,” Popovich said. “I was very candid with him. 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.’ He laughed, you know, that kind of thing.
“I said, ‘But short of that, I’m your best buddy because you’re here for another year, and you ain’t going nowhere. Because we’re not gonna get for you talentwise what we would want. So let’s figure this thing out.’ And we did. That’s what we came to.”
Popovich also said he realized he was overcoaching Aldridge and had moved him too far out of his comfort zone. Instead, he allowed Aldridge to play more like he did in Portland, and the results have thus far been impressive. He’s scoring a career-high 24 points per 36 possessions, getting to the foul line more, and turning the ball over at a career-low clip. Aldridge looks a lot like the player he did in Portland a few seasons ago when the Blazers where a fashionable dark horse championship pick before Wes Matthews tore his Achilles. He’s just a bit more efficient about it at a marginally lower volume.
It feels redundant to praise Pop, here, given that everyone already knows how great he is. But let’s do it anyway: here is an all-time coach who’s been with the Spurs since the Mesozoic having the self-awareness to realize he’s made a mistake, and then taking the action necessary to correct that course and salvage a relationship. Sometimes coaching less is coaching best, and once Leonard returns, the Spurs will be able to integrate him into a happy, functioning, typically Spurs-ian core.