Yesterday, Tim Duncan opted into the final year of his contract with the San Antonio Spurs. This is great news for basketball—not so much for the Portland Trail Blazers. The Spurs have delayed necessity for replacement by at least one more year. Duncan is 38 years old and will be 39 when he weighs an extension against retirement after next season. Chances are fairly high that the Spurs will be in the market for a dominant power forward in 2015.
Operating under the assumption that LaMarcus Aldridge does not sign a contract extension this year (he likely won’t), he will be the most sought after big man in 2015 free agency. The Spurs will not only be an attractive option for him from a championship chasing standpoint, but from a monetary standpoint as well. As of right now, the Spurs have Tiago Splitter on the books for the 2015-2016 season. That’s it. They will extend a low-cost qualifying offer to Kawhi Leonard and maybe Cory Joseph, but they will still have a ton of cap space to play with.
Expect a measured chunk to go to re-signing Tony parker, while a 37 year old Manu Ginobili either retires or takes another significant pay cut. The Spurs will still be around $40 million below cap before soon-to-be signed role players are factored in. Although the Spurs have been historically quiet on the major free agent front, they have not had cause to be loud until now. They are about to age out of the “Big 3 era” (for real this time) and are designed to recuperate instantaneously.
They will not refurbish their roster via trade because they will have virtually no contracts to barter, and they will not get a lot done in the draft because they will not be bad enough next season to get a high draft pick. It will have to be free agency or the much trickier sign-and-trade. So whose door will they come knocking on if Duncan decides next season is enough for him and they want an elite power forward in his stead? Aldridge’s. Look at the league’s other high quality PFs:
- Blake Griffin: Signed through 2018
- Anthony Davis: Will be in NOLA through at least 2017
- Kevin Love: Expected to commit to new team once traded
- Dirk Nowitzki: Dedicated to re-signing in Dallas (also, 112 years old)
- David Lee: Signed through 2016
- Zach Randolph: Will be signed to a multiyear deal within the month
- Serge Ibaka: Signed through 2017
- Chris Bosh: Will be signed to a multiyear deal within the month
- Paul Millsap: The most viable option aside from Aldridge
- Derrick Favors: Signed through 2018
Most of these players will be unavailable to them. Those that were available to them this year are no longer, because Duncan has displaced the Spurs’ need for a predecessor by another season. San Antonio’s best options for a power forward in 2015 free agency are Aldridge (elite), Millsap (fringe elite), or a mid-tier kind of guy like Kenneth Faried. Who would you double down on?
Of course, many stars have to align for this to be truly concerning, but the present concern is the likelihood of celestial alignment. It is likely that Aldridge forgoes a contract extension; it is likely that Duncan retires next year; and it is likely that the Spurs will pursue a positional replacement. By opting in, Duncan increased the odds on at least the second two happening.
Ignoring other suitors and any projected sense of allegiance for the time being, think about who Aldridge would pick if choosing between Portland and San Antonio in 2015. The Trail Blazers would have to slightly disassemble their core in order to afford him, while the most successful franchise in the modern NBA tries to woo him back to his home state with wads upon wads of cash. Warning bells should be ringing if they are not already.
Since Duncan’s decision to play another season has delayed San Antonio’s free agency push into Aldridge’s window of availability, things could get much hairier for Portland next year. A lot could happen between now and then, but the Spurs have placed themselves in prime position to pursue Aldridge. If they make the decision to go after him, his own decision will be far more complicated.