LaMarcus Aldridge announced on Saturday morning that he will join the San Antonio Spurs.
The four-time all-star with the Portland Trail Blazers was the most sought-after NBA free agent this summer. At 9:15 a.m., Aldridge ended weeks of speculation and wondering about where he would land.
“I’m happy to say I’m going home to Texas and will be a Spur!!” Aldridge wrote on Twitter. “I’m excited to join the team and be close to my family and friends.”
One of the most coveted free agents on the market picked the Spurs over several suitors, including the Lakers, Heat, Rockets, Knicks, Mavericks, Suns and Trail Blazers, the team for which he played the first nine seasons of his career.
Aldridge averaged a career-high 23.4 points and also grabbed 10.2 rebounds per game while playing with an injured thumb last season for the Blazers.
But after nine years in Portland, he hit the free agent market with many assuming he was headed elsewhere, and the Spurs pounced. Aldridge took two meetings with the Lakers and the Spurs, who brought Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, coach Gregg Popovich and GM R.C. Buford to the first one on Wednesday.
Every team Aldridge met with was offering the four-year maximum contract worth an estimated $80 million.
Ultimately he picked the team that has won five championships since 1999.
The Spurs offered him a chance to play in his home state, a chance to join the most successful franchise of the modern era and a chance to take the torch from Duncan, who will return for a 19th season.
After winning the championship in 2014, the Spurs were eliminated in seven games by the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs this year. With their famed trio of Duncan, point guard Tony Parker and shooting guard Manu Ginobili aging, Buford and Popovich have deftly set up the long-term health of the franchise with several moves this summer.
They started by signing Leonard, the reigning defensive player of the year and the NBA Finals MVP in 2014, to a five-year max contract and also locked up shooting guard Danny Green on a four-year, $45 million deal.
Then they traded big man Tiago Splitter to the Atlanta Hawks to help clear some of the necessary salary cap room to land Aldridge, and it all paid off on Saturday.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports reported that Aldridge will sign a four-year, $80M deal with Spurs, including player option on fourth year.
This much is clear: it wasn’t about the most guaranteed money, which could have been had in Portland.
Aldridge leaves Portland after posting the two best statistical seasons of his career in points, rebounds, free-throw percentage and 3-pointers made.
A year ago, Aldridge publicly said that he wanted to be “The Best Blazer Ever,” but the news from that day was that he would not sign a long term deal in Portland.
And the statement accomplished it’s goal: removing Aldridge’s free-agency as a talking point until the reality became too big to ignore.
Aldridge’s departure from Portland hastens a new era for the Blazers. They signed Damian Lillard to a five-year contract worth more than $120 million earlier this week, and the dynamic point guard will replace Aldridge as the new face of the franchise.
Blazers President of Basketball operations Neil Olshey also made several moves in preparation for Aldridge’s departure. He sent Nicolas Batum to Charlotte for guard Gerald Henderson and second-year power forward Noah Vonleh, added big man Mason Plumlee in a draft-day trade with Brooklyn and signed versatile power forward Ed Davis to a three-year, $20 million deal.
The Blazers, while publicly saying that they had a chance to bring Aldridge back, were making moves that looked like a rebuild.
Young, talented and cost-effective players were added to the roster beginning with the trade of Nicolas Batum just before draft night. Neil Olshey wasted no time stocking Portland with young talent.
This began to raise questions about whether the team really did have a shot at retaining Aldridge.
Three of the four players Portland has brought in this summer, when you include Aminu, play power forward.
One league executive at the time told The Columbian that the Batum trade, in which the prize was the 19-year old Vonleh, looked like a rebuilding move.
And then, a Western Conference executive told The Columbian last week that Aldridge had already indicated his intent not to return to Portland. This week more evidence surfaced that the Blazers entered free-agency under the suspicion that Aldridge would not return.
There were other doses of drama that inspired hope that Portland still had a chance.
Lillard reportedly flew to Los Angeles to try and salvage the situation by meeting with Aldridge, in an effort that mirrored the Bay of Pigs. But the meeting of the minds reportedly only produced a phone call. Breaking up is easier over the phone.
But the Blazers started moving on June 24.
Defensively, their youth and athleticism should serve them well.
Offensively, the Blazers are going to need to find an answer.
Lillard is a monster pick and roll player but how will he fare without Aldridge as a safety blanket?
CJ McCollum can get hot in the blink of an eye, can he be the sustainable source of points Portland will need him to be? But where else where they find offense? Can lobs to Plumlee and Davis as well as the shooting of Meyers Leonard provide enough?
Olshey has always been proactive and has consistently accumulated young talent to prevent the Blazers from finding themselves where the Los Angeles Clippers currently find themselves. With the departure of DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin due to be a free-agent in two seasons, the cupboard is pretty bare save for an aging Chris Paul.
But it’s this blueprint of collecting young assets that eventually landed him Chris Paul when Olshey was in charge of the Clippers.
The lottery protection on their 2016 pick that acquired Arron Afflalo is looking mighty smart, guarding against the ultimate doomsday scenario, which came to pass. In a brutal Western Conference which has only gotten stronger, Portland’s playoffs hopes look mighty slim.
The LaMarcus Aldridge era in Portland is finally, officially, over.