On Monday, the Spurs signed big man LaMarcus Aldridge to a three-year contract extension worth just over $72 million to remain on board in San Antonio through 2020-21. On Wednesday, speaking before his team’s season-opener against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked about Aldridge, his impressive play this preseason, his contract extension, and how he could’ve done a better job of integrating the All-Star forward into the Spurs system after he joined the team two years ago.
Popovich spoke of the many conversations he had with Aldridge over the summer, and how Aldridge confessed to him that he just didn’t feel comfortable on the court. Popovich blamed himself for trying to turn the big man into something he wasn’t.
“He just didn’t feel comfortable — and it was 98.75% on me. But I tried to change him. I thought back to when Timmy came and people asked me ‘What are you going to do with Tim Duncan?’ I said nothing. I’m just going to watch him for six months and see what he does. He’s a pretty good player. LaMarcus, he got here on day one. I said ‘okay, you’re going to do this; you’re going to do this pump fake’ — I tried to change him. I tried to make him a different player. I think that really affected his ability to feel comfortable and confident on the court.”
People around the league had speculated that Aldridge was going to be traded because he simply didn’t fit in the Spurs system. Popovich, though, had other ideas.
Popovich said the matter has been handled and he let Aldridge know things would be handled differently this year and, as Popovich said to reporters, “last year was on me, and not on him.”
Aldridge averaged only 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last season. Those were his lowest outputs since his rookie debut. He also failed to qualify for the All-Star team for the first time since 2012.
Then, during the playoffs, when the Spurs desperately needed him to take over their offense after Kawhi Leonard re-tweaked an already sprained left ankle in Game one of the Western Conference Finals against Golden State, Aldridge was very unproductive, averaging 11.3 points on a woeful 38 percent shooting over the Spurs’ next three games, all the while appearing very timid every time he touched the ball.
When Popovich talked to Aldridge over the summer, he agreed to make some major tweaks. Aldridge said that really changed things for him, and it showed in his dominant play throughout the preseason.
When asked about Aldridge’s extension, the head coach sounded happy that the situation had been taken care of in a timely manner.
“The sooner those things are taken care of the better, so you have continuity, a sense of normalcy and you don’t have distractions. Getting that agreed to and being stable is really huge for us, especially with Kawhi out.”
Aldridge has indeed been fantastic in the preseason, looking more settled in year three with the Spurs and appearing to have gotten rid of some of the distractions that held him back in recent years, one of which was the heart arrhythmia, which kept Aldridge out of multiple games and may have impacted the physical condition he was in.
Popovich does not see the scenario repeating itself this year.
“It’s the best preseason since he’s been here. He had the heart thing last year, so he gained weight. He came ready mentally and physically this year.”
[Featured Image by Brandon Dill/AP Images]