One of these contenders should trade for human secret ingredient LaMarcus Aldridge

One of these contenders should trade for human secret ingredient LaMarcus Aldridge

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Illustration: Eric Barrow (AP)

$24 million due in the 2020-21 season, a 15 percent trade kicker, and one season removed from a stretch of seven All-Star appearances over eight seasons. LaMarcus Aldridge is the veteran, stretch-four ‘missing piece’ for at least one NBA team that isn’t the San Antonio Spurs, where he currently resides. Even last season, he still averaged 19 points and 7.4 rebounds, hitting 49 percent from the field and a career-best 39 percent from 3 on a career-high three attempts per game. Additionally, he’s on an expiring contract, and because the Spurs probably won’t be anything wildly significant this season, they should get something for him and send the 6-foot-11, 35-year-old big to a contender. Here are four possible landing spots.

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Miami Heat

Miami Heat

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Illustration: Eric Barrow (AP)

Aldridge was not only pursued by Miami five years ago, but Pat Riley even secured a meeting with the then-Portland Trail Blazer before he committed to the Spurs long-term.

The Heat are the most obvious fit, and also have the trade chips to do so in Kendrick Nunn, along with a salary-matching contract combination of Kelly Olynyk and Andre Iguodala, or others if they wait until the season plays out to a degree, plus draft compensation. As presently constructed, the Heat have at least two absolutes in whatever their opening night starting lineup will look like: Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. More than likely, Tyler Herro and/or Duncan Robinson will accompany the two, leaving one or two open spots to fill. Avery Bradley, Moe Harkless, Meyers Leonard, and Nunn are leading candidates to round out the five unless KZ Okpala impresses from under our noses the way Nunn and Robinson did last year.

At your four and five, you’re looking at Adebayo and either Harkless or Leonard, if not Robinson or Okpala in a smaller lineup. Given the aforementioned nature of what the deal would actually be, Aldridge improves the roster and improves the spot overnight, standing beside Adebayo as the win-now big needed to combat larger rosters, like the Los Angeles Lakers, whom they failed to overcome in the NBA Finals.

It also maintains the Heat’s depth, which will never lose balance given their construction and general development. First-round pick Precious Achuiwa’s immediate future is in good hands. Your playoff closing five could look like Bradley-Herro-Butler-Adebayo-Aldridge, with an argument for being the most balanced lineup in the Eastern Conference, with Robinson, Dragic, and Harkless, among others, waiting in the wings.

Like Harkless, as Ethan Skolnick of 5 Reasons Sports points out, it isn’t abnormal for the Heat to return to a player they’ve inquired about. You could even say it’s an extension of their culture.

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Brooklyn Nets

Brooklyn Nets

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Illustration: Eric Barrow (AP)

We don’t know if they’re trading for James Harden, but we know they should do something. Spencer Dinwiddie is easily a starting-caliber point guard who would again come off the bench in Brooklyn. Only this time, he’s on an expiring contract, which incentivizes the Nets to inquire about what would come back in a possible transaction.

Similarly, Jarrett Allen is in the final year of his rookie-scale contract, which began in 2017. Given DeAndre Jordan’s long-term commitment — made to appease Kevin Durant — it appears as if Allen is the other obvious trade piece for Brooklyn. I covered the team at SB Nation from 2016-19, and, since that first year, the fanbase has been clamoring for a true stretch-big. They weren’t unanimous on Justin Hamilton, Quincy Acy, Dante Cunningham, or Jared Dudley, all of whom were awesome guys, but not quite Kevin Durant, who they signed last season.

However, you can start Durant, Aldridge, and Jordan as your 3-through-5, which would accompany a Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert or Joe Harris backcourt. You can also attach Taurean Prince’s salary to the Allen and Dinwiddie deals, plus whatever draft compensation is needed to make the deal work. It may sound like a lot for Brooklyn to give up, but it would also solidify their contendership. Plus, there is that ‘what-if’ stemming from Aldridge leaving the University of Texas right before Durant got there.

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Indiana Pacers

Indiana Pacers

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Illustration: Eric Barrow (AP)

This is least likely because it’s built on a contingent of ‘if’ hurdles that the Nets and Heat simply don’t have. Plus, the Pacers are not really contenders right now. However, they could be closer than people realize dependent on one or both of these two things.

  1. Victor Oladipo, while in a contract year, returns to his 2017-18 self … if he stays.

This a longshot, because you could compellingly argue that we offer Oladipo too much credit for his one Most Improved Player season. It’s also entirely possible that he doesn’t begin opening night on Indiana’s roster. There have been trade talks surrounding him going to the Milwaukee Bucks, among other teams like the Heat and Nets. Still, this is primarily possible if Oladipo not only plays out his final year in Indiana, but returns to form, making them better than expected.

2. Malcolm Brogdon, TJ Warren, and Domatas Sabonis continue what they built on last season.

Whether or not they need to do this with Oladipo will not matter if that trade does happen. It would then be primarily on these three gentlemen to uplift new head coach Nate Bjorkgren to something the Pacers evidently wanted out of Nate McMillan. (We’ll see about that.)

But with or without Oladipo, the Pacers would need these three to lead Indiana into a position, similar to last season, where they could make a mid-season acquisition of Aldridge’s caliber. The team nearly landed Gordon Hayward, so they’re obviously trying to win now. They already tried to trade Myles Turner to the Boston Celtics this month, and since the Spurs don’t have a long-term center, why not two years of Turner? They extended Jakob Poeltl for three years and $27 million this off-season. Coincidentally, in the same off-season where Montrezl Harrell, Derrick Jones Jr, Mason Plumlee, Meyers Leonard, Serge Ibaka, Tristan Thompson, Jae Crowder, De’Anthony Melton, and others signed to make between $8-10 million annually.

Man, look … almost all them dudes gettin’ traded between now and whenever their contracts expire. You trade salaries as much as actual players in this league.

Poeltl will be moved at some point. In this deal in particular? You could attach draft compensation to Turner and Jeremy Lamb (who makes around $10 million these next two seasons and is still recovering from a torn ACL) to get it done. A Brogdon-Oladipo-Warren-Sabonis-Aldridge five suddenly becomes a threat to everyone in the Eastern Conference. Without Oladipo? Depends on Brogdon, Warren and Sabonis, who is coming off his first All-Star appearance. (Brogdon built an All-Star case in the first two months of last season as well.) But, again, if-if-if.

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Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers

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Illustration: Eric Barrow (AP)

Sports media and fans are suckers for a reunion. But occasionally, so are sports teams. Suddenly, the Trail Blazers — who may have won the offseason — have youth who could be on the outside looking in regarding who’ll obtain consistent minutes this season. Suddenly, they have almost too much depth, which is a great problem to have when you’re a needy contender longing for that one extra piece to solidify your standing.

Re-enter Aldridge, who spent his first nine seasons with Portland, including Damian Lillard’s first three. Portland has the luxury of waiting to see how their season progresses with their new acquisitions and would be enticed to do so if Rodney Hood’s salary of, you guessed it, around $10 million a year is used. He can’t be dealt until after this coming Feb. 18 because he was recently signed.

Of the teams mentioned, Portland also has the most intriguing youth for the Spurs to take back on a perspective deal. They could acquire three or so guys from the Nasir Little, Anfernee Simons, Harry Giles, Gary Trent Jr, and Zach Collins group paired with Hood’s salary in dealing Aldridge. Portland would then likely close with Lillard, CJ McCollum, Robert Covington, Aldridge, and Jusuf Nurkic on most nights, though Carmelo Anthony is a vintage offensive night away from replacing Ro-Co. Still, given Portland’s depth, they’ll have plenty of options and would have one of the league’s very best starting and finishing fives upon an Aldridge rejoin.

More importantly, they’ll have the size needed for the Lakers, Clippers and Denver Nuggets.

 

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