Throwback Thursdays generally harken back to the good old days of Phoenix Suns lore, from Walter Davis and Alvan Adams to Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire.
Today’s TBT, though, is only going back in time 16 months to the Suns’ brief dalliance with LaMarcus Aldridge, late of the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Suns, coming off a disappointing 39-win season, still saw themselves on the cusp of perennial playoff contention and figured that double-double machine LaMarcus Aldridge could complete their playoff-ready team in a similar way to Boston grabbing Al Horford a few months ago.
Aldridge, along with signee Tyson Chandler, could have given the Suns a formidable lineup:
- C Tyson Chandler (Alex Len)
- PF LaMarcus Aldridge (Jon Leuer)
- SF P.J. Tucker (T.J. Warren)
- SG Brandon Knight (Devin Booker)
- PG Eric Bledsoe (Brandon Knight, Ronnie Price)
On paper, that team could easily have contended for a playoff spot last year, and for another year or so at least. The idea was that Alex Len would eventually supplant Chandler’s contributions in the middle to play the Robin (Lopez) role that worked so well next to LMA’s batman in Portland.
Especially when you factor in Devin Booker’s inevitable rise, the team could have been a mix of youth and functional age.
Consider all that likely would have happened had the Suns maxed out their payroll with LMA and Chandler in the opening days of July.
- The whole Markieff Morris saga would have ended quite quickly with a trade (maybe even to Portland?), given that LMA took his spot and McDonough had already proven willing to take a 2020 second round pick for his brother Marcus.
- There would have been no money for the failed Sonny Weems experiment, opening up minutes even earlier for Devin Booker.
- Jon Leuer would have been the perfect garbage man when LMA rested
Of course, Bledsoe and Knight still might have gotten hurt and missed a ton of time, but the presence of LMA and charged-up Chandler could possibly have carried the team through some awful times.
It’s still even possible that the Suns could have drafted Marquese Chriss with the exact same draft trade this past July. Their own first rounder would still have been mid-round, plus the 28th, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Marcus pick would have still been in McD’s pocket. Imagine Marquese Chriss replacing Leuer to give the Suns the Chriss/Booker future they have today.
But alas, that didn’t happen.
LMA chose the Spurs, who in turn expected him to accept being just one of the guys while LMA assumed he’d be the new go-to guy.
Now a year later, and despite a 67-win season, there’s rumors LMA doesn’t want to be just a side piece after all, and that the Spurs might be realizing he’s not the next Tim Duncan.
LMA is back on the market for the exact salary that the Suns wanted to pay him a year ago, and with one less year to pay it.
Should the Suns try to acquire LMA today or sometime midseason?
If you look at that “coulda been” roster above, you’ll notice the Suns can STILL put almost that exact roster together today.
Just flip-flop Knight and Booker, replace Jon Leuer and Ronnie Price with Marquese Chriss and Tyler Ulis (win!), and then add in this year’s #4 overall pick in Dragan Bender, and voila! the Suns have an even better roster than they would have had a year ago.
But that’s not realistic.
Realistically, the Spurs would want some real talent back for LMA. The Suns have $15 million in available cap space, so at least “salary matching” isn’t a major problem. The Suns would conceivably only have to ship out a little over $5 million to bring back LMA’s $20 million in salary.
Suns-loving rosterbaters would perk up right about now to suggest a Tucker + 1-2 future #1s for LMA. But there’s just about zero chance the Spurs would accept that offer.
Other Suns-loving rosterbaters would offer Brandon Knight + 1-2 draft picks for LMA. But do you really see the Spurs wanting Knight as their prize return for LMA?
What exactly would the Spurs want in exchange for LMA?
We don’t exactly know.
But you can surmise the Spurs still want to win a lot of games and would want some playable youth and future picks. Not aging role players (Tucker, who’d be stuck behind Leonard anyway) or never-gonna-be-a-stars (Knight, and probably Bledsoe too).
That makes it a tougher decision than a straight free agent signing.
Devin Booker has to be off the table entirely.
Would you trade Marquese Chriss? Or Dragan Bender? Me neither.
Until now, I’ve been heading down memory lane and assuming the Suns want to be relevant again THIS SEASON. Acquiring LMA would make the Suns relevant right now, and for the next 1-2 years conceivably.
But don’t we, as fans, want more than that? Don’t we want sustainable success?
If you acquire LMA, you’re blocking Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender from the Suns power forward position for the next three years at least.
The Suns might make the first or second round of the playoffs with LMA in the lineup, but LMA’s history shows that even at his best he can’t carry a team any further. He’s never gotten to the Conference Finals with loaded Blazers and Spurs teams, even. And the Blazers showed last year they can make the second round without him.
Do you want to mortgage the Suns short-term future for a chance at first or second round playoff exit in 2017?
I say no.
Pass on LMA. Stay young. Stay the course. Realize the future of Booker, Chriss and Bender.