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March 11, 2021

Is Spurs' LaMarcus Aldridge worth a look for the Sixers?

Over and over again, we have discussed the same players, the same rumors, the same targets for the Sixers ahead of the March 25th trade deadline. We are finally reaching the stretch of season where it all comes together, and the time where new names begin to come out of the woodwork.

San Antonio Spurs big man LaMarcus Aldridge was a surprise addition to the market on the first night coming out of the All-Star break, with Gregg Popovich revealing they'd come to an agreement for Aldridge to be away from the team. The Spurs will seek a partner for a potential trade up until the deadline.

"He's been a great teammate. No problem there," Popovich said during a Zoom call Wednesday. "We just think this is a win-win for both LaMarcus and the club. When an opportunity arises, that'll be up to management, his agent and that sort of thing, and we'll all move forward."

In the event that Aldridge is a desirable trade target to a team looking to compete in the playoffs, I think that all but rules him out as a possibility for Philly. His salary ($24 million) would require the Sixers to send out significant pieces just to make contracts match under the league trade rules, and Aldridge is no longer the sort of player that would justify taking that step.

But as a potential buyout candidate, Aldridge could be a potential boost to their bench, a player with a set of skills that could help them open up the floor and throw a different look at opponents.

Most of you probably know Aldridge from his peak in Portland and his early days with the Spurs, when he largely ignored the three-point line to shoot over defenders from midrange. There was good reason for that — Aldridge was a gifted scorer inside the arc, destroying teams from the mid-post before and after the league began to go through a three-point revolution. Though the Blazers days were more noteworthy, Aldridge's 2017-18 run in San Antonio is a bit underrated, with his All-Star effort carrying the Spurs in spite of Kawhi Leonard's extended absence/standoff with the team.

Last season, Aldridge finally began to embrace the three-point line and looked pretty good doing it — Aldridge made nearly 39 percent of his threes on three attempts per game last season, doubling his career-high in attempts while making them at a rock-solid clip. Combined with the ability to punish smaller defenders on the block and shoot over almost anybody, he's the sort of player who would appear to have offensive value until the day he retires.

About that — Aldridge's efficiency has dipped considerably this season and he hasn't made up for it elsewhere. His game has always been predicated on adding value through scoring first, second, and third, and his deficiencies as a foul drawer and playmaker become a bit more obvious when he's struggling to score. A lot of the drop has come at the rim, where Aldridge is finishing worse than he has at any point in his career, with the rest owed to average outside shooting.

That would be a little less concerning if Aldridge had more left in the tank defensively. By all accounts, he's on his last legs on that end, and he was rarely a good defender in the first place. Defending in space is a serious challenge for him at this stage of his career, and with Aldridge basically a pure center these days, that's a huge problem, since no one is behind him to bail him out with rim protection if he gets blown by.

Does it seem insane that I would then advocate for the Sixers to sign him in order to play that exact big man role off of the bench? Sort of! But I think in the right role with the right mentality, Aldridge could still be an effective role player for Philly.

A stretch big has been one of the needs we've harped on for the Sixers over and over again, and even average outside shooting would be enough to open up the floor for second units. That's a particularly important distinction for the groupings around Ben Simmons, at least if Doc Rivers opts to stagger Simmons and Joel Embiid more than he did in the first half of the year.

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The Sixers' coaches have expressed their desire to use Simmons in more small-ball looks, but acquiring a big like Aldridge would help you accomplish what those looks are meant to achieve offensively while adding a way to attack teams who downsize in response. Even at age 35, Aldridge is perfectly capable of attacking a size mismatch and scoring in the halfcourt.

Aldridge would not help the Sixers turn to a more switch-heavy defensive scheme around Simmons on the second unit, but neither would most of the "stretch big" options who have been floated in recent weeks, a la Nemanja Bjelica or Mike Muscala. The point of separation between Aldridge and those bigs is that he offers more as a scorer beyond his ability to hit catch-and-shoot jumpers, which is an important point of separation for a unit that is constantly bogged down.

Assuming they aren't able to get somebody like PJ Tucker, who offers a wildly different set of skills, Aldridge would be a great fit as a complement to what they already have on the bench. The hardest part would be selling him on coming here in the first place.

To put it lightly, this is not a team with a lot of available minutes for big men. Aldridge isn't going to get power forward minutes in anything other than fluke lineup settings, and as aggravating as the Dwight Howard rollercoaster has been at times, I doubt Doc Rivers would throw his current backup center out of the rotation altogether. So Aldridge would have to come to Philadelphia accepting a situational role, one where he might be out of the rotation entirely on some nights.

If Aldridge would be willing to live with that in order to pursue a title shot, the Sixers would be better for it. But teams like the Celtics and Heat have more obvious needs to fill in their rotations, and no one could fault Aldridge for preferring an opportunity where he can have a more active impact on a new team's title chances,  even if both those teams currently have significantly lower title odds than the Sixers, according to Unibet.

With the Spurs looking to make a trade before swallowing the buyout pill, any interest on Philly's end likely wouldn't matter until late March. Even they have a slim chance, he's a player worth consideration.

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