Should We Believe LaMarcus Aldridge or Should We Believe the Media?It has been widely reported that LaMarcus Aldridge is unhappy with his role with the San Antonio Spurs and that he wants to be traded to a team for whom he can be the clear number one offensive option. During Aldridge's first season in San Antonio, the Spurs went 67-15 in 2015-16, tied with six other teams for the seventh best regular season record in NBA history.
Aldridge ranked second on the team in scoring (18.0 ppg) while averaging a team-high 8.5 rpg in 30.6 mpg; in the playoffs, Aldridge averaged 21.9 ppg and a team-high 8.3 rpg. Aldridge set a career-high in regular season field goal percentage (.513) and playoff field goal percentage (.521) but his regular season scoring average was his lowest since 2009-10. Perhaps most significantly, Aldridge advanced to the second round of the playoffs for just the second time in his 10 year career. If he stays in San Antonio, Aldridge will likely contend for the NBA title on an annual basis for the next several years.
Aldridge is a five-time All-Star and a four-time member of the All-NBA Team (once on the Second Team, three times on the Third Team). He is arguably the best power forward in the league, though he would never be an odds-on favorite to win the MVP in today's analytics driven/small-ball climate that has seen Steve Nash and Stephen Curry win two MVPs apiece while Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant combined to win two MVPs during their entire careers.
If it is true that Aldridge prefers putting up big scoring numbers for a non-contending team as opposed to playing a significant role on a championship contender, then he is just another Stephon Marbury, Gilbert Arenas, Carmelo Anthony and James Harden--or, to put it another way, he is the antithesis of Nate Archibald, Bob McAdoo, Mark Aguirre, Manu Ginobili and a few other All-Stars who voluntarily sacrificed personal glory to win NBA championships.
There is a proper protocol when elite players join forces (whether via trades or free agency) to win championships: the newcomer publicly states that this is still the established star's team, whether or not that is actually the case anymore, because what is most important is to put the "Whose team is this?" nonsense to rest before the media runs wild with it. When Moses Malone joined the Philadelphia 76ers prior to the 1982-83 season, Malone was the reigning MVP while Julius Erving had won the 1981 MVP and finished third in the 1982 MVP voting. Malone stated that the 76ers were Erving's team. Any potential problem was squashed before it could start; Malone won the 1983 regular season and playoff MVPs, while Erving joined Malone on the All-NBA First Team as the 76ers rolled to the championship. Both players voluntarily reduced their scoring and could not have cared less about their personal statistics or about whose team it was. Similarly, when LeBron James signed with the Miami Heat in 2010 he spoke of the Heat being Dwyane Wade's team--and the funny thing is that the media actually bought this even though James was clearly the best player on the team; James won regular season and Finals MVPs in both 2012 and 2013, while Wade progressively dropped from All-NBA First Team status (prior to James' arrival) to the All-NBA Second Team and then the All-NBA Third Team before eventually not being selected to the All-NBA Team at all. The point is that, as the old saying goes, it is amazing how much can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.
Does it really matter if the Spurs are Kawhi Leonard's team or LaMarcus Aldridge's team? Isn't the most important goal to win a championship?
However, there is one rather significant problem with the headline-grabbing story of Aldridge's alleged selfishness: the story may be false.
Aldridge has publicly denied that he is unhappy in San Antonio or that the Spurs are unhappy with him. Media members who regularly cover the Spurs have indicated that the Aldridge rumors are false. If that is true, then what we have is not a story about a selfish athlete but rather yet another example of certain members of the national media either making stuff up or else trusting anonymous "sources" who are not trustworthy. Relying too heavily on an anonymous source is like playing Russian roulette and hoping that you don't blow your brains out: it might work but it also might end very badly.
During the years that I covered NBA games in person with a media credential, I saw firsthand the unsavory tactics employed by many members of the media. For instance, a media member might ask one player a leading question designed to elicit a particular quote and then five minutes later that media member would go up to another player and say, "Player X said ABC about you. What do you think of that?" The media member would not indicate that the first player was merely answering a question that the media member had asked. An even slimier version of this tactic is to paraphrase what the first player said in a way that takes the quote out of context and makes it sound like something different than what the first player really meant.
Then, there is also the problem that many of the people who cover the NBA do not have the requisite knowledge of the sport or its history to do the job properly. Early in my career as an NBA writer, I did a one on one interview with Paul Silas, who was then the coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. I asked him about Bob Dandridge, who Silas played against in two NBA Finals. Silas told me that Dandridge was a "talker." If I did not know the history of the sport or if I just wanted to create controversy, I could have left that quote as it stood or even paraphrased it so that it seemed like Silas was calling Dandridge a trash-talker--but I knew that Dandridge did not have that kind of demeanor, so I remarked to Silas that I am surprised that Dandridge was a "talker." Silas immediately clarified that he meant that Dandridge communicated well with his teammates: "He talked the game and understood it and imparted that (to his teammates). He was very, very smart about the game and how he fit within the scheme and how he wanted everybody else to fit." I did not generate any headlines or create any controversies but I provided my readers with some insight about one of the most underrated players from the 1970s. If I had not known about Dandridge before speaking to Silas--or if I had been more interested in sizzle than substance--then my article would have had a completely different tone.
Maybe the person who is spreading the Aldridge rumors has an ax to grind with Aldridge and/or the Spurs. There are any number of possible motives and I will not speculate about all of them.
All I will say is this: if Aldridge really wants to be the kind of player that Kenny Smith calls a "looter in a riot" (i.e., someone amassing big stats for a losing team) then I hope the Spurs grant his wish as quickly as possible and that Aldridge spends the rest of his career scoring 25 ppg without sniffing the playoffs--but if some members of the media are either just making this up or they are too lazy/incompetent to research the facts before publishing the story, then I hope there are some consequences for their reckless behavior (I don't expect such consequences, mind you, as there is a long and shameful tradition of discredited journalists perversely becoming celebrities and thus profiting from actions that should have made them pariahs).
The truth (almost) always comes out in the end and when we know for sure what that truth is regarding Aldridge I will have a lot more to say about this subject, but the most responsible course of action for now is to let this story unfold naturally.
posted by David Friedman @ 3:28 PM