The Phoenix Suns still wait to the hear whether they have won the LaMarcus Aldridge sweepstakes, but at least appear to be in the final grouping of finalists for his services.
Word is that LaMarcus needs a little more time and is genuinely torn by the choices in front of him.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 3, 2015
So it's down to the Spurs and Suns, surely sparking some dormant feelings of frustration among Suns fans tired of coming in second place to the Spurs for the past decade.
But hey, at the least the Suns are finally back in the running for something this good!
Media have speculated like crazy why the race truly is down to the wire between these two rivals, with camps on each side expounding reason after reason why Spurs are the better choice or the Suns are the better choice.
But the Spurs offer the promise of making smart decisions, and developing players to fit an ever-evolving offensive scheme to maximize their talent. Danny Green has progressed from scrap-heap player to a $44 million contract as one of the league premiere 3-and-D players next to rising Kawhi Leonard.
The Spurs also offer pedigree, a proven winning environment and a return to his home state, but lack clarity for the future as Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker fade into the sunset and coach Gregg Popovich considers a move from the sideline to the front office in the coming years. There is no guarantee of a finals run, and the center options are murky enough to warn Aldridge he might have to spend a lot of time in the pivot, which he does not like to do.
The Suns offer a more defined future, with a young roster led by Aldridge and a player he's always admired in Tyson Chandler, that could quickly become a playoff regular and has flexibility and potential to rise even higher in the coming years. Even better, the Suns are deep at center for the present (Chandler) and future (Len), allowing Aldridge to stay at his preferred PF position.
But the Suns are still lacking in some areas. They have no championship pedigree, have not appeared in the playoffs since 2010, and frankly aren't as analytics-friendly as they were a year ago.
Aldridge apparently is very interested in analytics to win basketball games. He was disappointed when the Lakers didn't engage in analytics and pure basketball talk in their initial conversations.
Lakers apologized to LMA for not getting into more hoops at first mtg, when it was over an hour before Kupchak/BScott talked— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 3, 2015
Lakers mtg with LaMarcus today lasted 90 mins. Basketball talk from Kupchak, Byron &Mark Madsen (who handles analytics for coaching staff)— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 3, 2015
The prevailing conclusion from analysts is to get nearly all of your points from behind the line or at the rim. The pace-and-space offense proved effective for all the Conference Finalists this past year is the NBA blueprint of analytics works.
Aldridge is an interesting case in that he makes a living in the area of the floor poo-pooed by analysts - the mid-range jumper. So it's no surprise that he wants his next team to offset his scoring penchant with an extreme version of spacing.
Therein lies the rub.
Chandler, Eric Bledsoe and Alex Len can provide the rim scoring, but where will the Suns get the three-point shooting they will need to provide enough space for Aldridge?
League average on three-point % is 36%, while attempting a three on more than 26% of possessions. The Suns, Spurs and Blazers were all above average in attempt-rate last year, but it was the Suns that fell off the face of the earth after the trade deadline. After the deadline trades, the Suns were last in the league in the three-point shooting over the last 30 games, making less than 30% of their attempts.
The Suns will have to demonstrate improvement in that area for Aldridge to be comfortable with their immediate future. He can't be impressed with the drafting of Devin Booker, a marksman from out there, because rookies almost never lay claim to rotation spots on good teams.
So the improvement has to come from somewhere in the rotation. The Suns have committed to a center and a guard tandem - four of the starting positions including Aldridge - who have only one good three-point shooter among them in Brandon Knight.
Brandon Knight, who made 41% of his threes with Milwaukee last year, will help but where else will the Suns get their much-needed shooting behind the arc?
Eric Bledsoe made only 32% of his threes last year from the point guard position, and P.J. Tucker made just 34% from the small forward position. T.J. Warren is a gifted scorer, but lives in the midrange and at the rim and has not demonstrated a consistent three-point shot.
Where then will the three-point shooting come from?
This must be one of Aldridge's bigger questions when it comes to the Suns scheme around what they purported to him as the core for the immediate future: Chandler, Knight and Bledsoe, along with a young Alex Len.
Just like the salary-dumping trade yesterday to prove flexibility, the Suns must be negotiating further trades to improve team shooting that could fit around Aldridge as well.
To acquire Aldridge and close the deal with Chandler, the Suns would still need to shed some $6-8 million from the payroll even after the salary-dump trade yesterday. Markieff Morris ($8 million) and old friend P.J. Tucker ($5 million) are the only remaining salary slots big enough to create the necessary cap room for an Aldridge/Chandler acquisition.
How could the Suns demonstrate the ability to shed the necessary remaining payroll AND improve their shooting from, most likely, the small forward position this season?
The Suns should consider engaging in trade conversations with the Toronto Raptors.
The Raptors just added DeMarre Carroll to a wing unit that already includes DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross, while losing Amir Johnson in free agency. This leaves them with a glut of wings and dearth of starting-caliber power forwards. The Raps also have $10 million in cap space.
Maybe a swap of Terrence Ross for Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker? Ross isn't quite as good as his draft slot (8th in 2012) but still takes a lot of threes and makes 37% of them from mostly the small forward position as he shared the floor with DeRozan.
Even if Aldridge doesn't come to Phoenix, it would behoove the Suns to consider a swap of Tucker for Ross. No indication that Raps would want either of these deals, but it's still worth exploring.
This isn't an earth-shattering move, but would provide the Suns with a more-proven 3-and-D player than Reggie Bullock was, and can take as many threes as the Suns offense generates. He is a restricted free-agent next summer, so the Suns could let him go if he doesn't work out and/or if they want the minutes to go to Devin Booker and Bogdan Bogdanovic.
This is just one idea to bring in a low-cost small forward who can make a lot of threes this year, and is good enough to play in a playoff-caliber rotation. At the same time, the Suns would be able to create enough cap room to sign both Aldridge and Chandler outright without enriching Portland or Dallas in the process.
I'm sure the Suns have a lot of other ideas too.
It's those ideas - and potentially already-negotiated trades - that could sway LaMarcus Aldridge to the Suns.