The San Antonio Spurs and LaMarcus Aldridge are undertaking a rare experiment – one that has produced a championship more often than not.
Just five players in NBA history have changed teams in the offseason after averaging as many points per game as Aldridge did last year (23.4) and gone to a team that won as many games as the Spurs did (55):
- Walt Hazzard, traded from the Seattle SuperSonics to the 56-win Atlanta Hawks after averaging 24.0 points in 1968
- Oscar Robertson, traded from the Cincinnati Royals to the 56-win Milwaukee Bucks in 25.3 points in 1970
- Charlie Scott, traded from the Phoenix Suns to the 60-win Boston Celtics after averaging 24.3 points in 1975
- Moses Malone, traded from the Houston Rockets to the 58-win Philadelphia 76ers after averaging 31.1 points in 1982
- Jeff Malone, traded from the Washington Bullets to the 55-win Utah Jazz after averaging 24.3 points in 1990
Scott, Robertson and Moses Malone all won a championship in their first season with their new team.
The bar is no lower in San Antonio this year.
Unfortunately, recent history suggests growing pains.
The only scorers as proficient as Aldridge to change teams in the last eight years were LeBron and Kevin Love to the Cavaliers last year and LeBron and Chris Bosh to the Heat in 2010. Cleveland started 19-20. Miami began 8-7.
But the Cavaliers were awful before LeBron’s return, and the Heat didn’t get out of the first round the year prior to LeBron’s arrival. Plus, both teams added two new stars, more upheaval.
The Spurs, on the other hand, are a model of consistency. They’ve reached the playoffs 18 straight seasons and will mostly rely on other returners, though David West will contribute. Their system is solidified.
And so is Aldridge’s. He works methodically with the ball. He shoots mid-range jumpers, ideally working from the left side. He prefers power forward to center.
But there will have to be change. After trading Tiago Splitter to clear cap space, San Antonio needs Aldridge to play some center. His new teammates might be willing to defer offensively, but there will still be a push for Aldridge to pass more in Popovich’s scheme.
The Cavaliers and Heat reached the Finals their first seasons with their new stars, though both teams were more open to a shakeup.
The Spurs want to do things their way. Aldridge has known only how to do things his way.
Where that doesn’t intersect, both sides must find common ground – ideally while Duncan, Ginobili and Parker are still around.