For the first few days of free agency, report after report said Phoenix was in serious contention for the services of All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Then on July 4, he tweeted his decision to join San Antonio.
So what happened?
It’s simple. No matter how strong of a pitch the Suns could make, San Antonio had some things going for it that the Suns could not counter. And with the money being equal, it was too much to overcome.
Team success (immediate)
San Antonio’s core is aging, and with no fountain of youth to toss Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili into, the clock is ticking on the Spurs. Despite that, they still won 55 games and came within a hair of being the No. 2 seed in the vaunted Western Conference last season.
The addition of Aldridge could vault them past Golden State in the pecking order and make them legitimate title contenders for Duncan’s final season or two. The appeal of instantly being a title contender cannot be denied.
The Suns? They did their best to show Aldridge that he was their missing piece, even letting Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, and Tyson Chandler have some alone time with him. But going from 10th in the West to title contender is a tough sell, even if it has been done before. The fact that Phoenix remained in contention as long as they did likely speaks volumes for the respect players have for Tyson Chandler.
Team success (track record)
The Spurs will always have solid teams as long as Gregg Popovich remains at the helm. Hall of Famers like David Robinson and Tim Duncan have been the engines that made the championship train run, but Popovich instilled a system that plays to players’ strengths, milking the most out of previously believed lost causes like Danny Green, Matt Bonner, and Boris Diaw and allowing the burden of team success to be shared by more than just the team’s top players.
The regular success San Antonio has enjoyed had to ease Aldridge’s apprehension about heading for a new locale. Knowing the team is unlikely to implode around him is reassuring. Yes, Duncan and Ginobili will retire — eventually — but Kawhi Leonard isn’t going anywhere, Popovich’s contract runs through 2019, and the Spurs likely sold Aldridge on their ability to add another big name beside him in a year or two once the cap explodes.
The Suns? They couldn’t argue this nearly as effectively as the Spurs. While Phoenix has youth in spades that can grow and mature alongside Aldridge for years to come, it wasn’t enough. No matter how you color it, the Suns have missed the playoffs for 5 straight seasons and took a step backward last season. Players want to know they are the missing piece to your puzzle, but convincing an All Star that a 39-43 team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2010 and has had significant roster turnover in that span is the better option than a stable, 55-win team that perennially contends is a virtual impossibility.
While making the 8th seed in the playoffs may not seem all that significant, it would have helped Phoenix tremendously not to have that gaping hole in its résumé.
This was probably the biggest factor in his decision and why the process continued to drag out. In fact, Aldridge even mentioned being near his family and friends in his announcement tweet:
This was the major draw for him from the start, which is why all three Texas teams were involved in early talks. Uprooting his family to be near him in another city was not an option, so even if everything else were equal, the family consideration would still tilt the scales in favor of Texas.
No matter what the Suns presented him with, they could not give him his family.