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Friday, October 21, 2016

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.

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posted by David Friedman @ 3:28 PM



At Friday, October 21, 2016 4:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rarely does something come out of thin air. I'm sure there's some truth to it. I guess the real question is: why should we care? Rarely is any player completely unhappy or happy with their role. We don't know what's happening or said behind closed doors. I do find it weird this story is coming up right now, before the season has even began. I'm confused by that.

Given how LA and SA performed last year, it was nearly a complete failure. Sure, they had great regular season success, but losing in the 2nd round and looking pretty bad in the final 3 games vs OKC was terrible given their roster. I'd be a bit worried if I were SA with LA given his history with POR as well as last season, though their roster looks awesome again this year.

Wade was much better in 2011 than in 2014, when these 'whose team' questions first arose. James was certainly better in 2011, but Wade was still an elite player then. And given what we saw in the playoffs, particularly in the finals vs DAL, Wade had a strong case for 2011. He had to continuously prod James to play hard in the finals. James learned a lot from Wade over time, whereas Wade learned nothing from James.

I don't think it's completely accurate for the players you listed as not sacrificing personal glory over team glory. Over time, we can see what happens, but you don't know what's going to happen when you sign with a team. Someone like James has been lucky that his GMs have put together a very competent roster around him every year. Melo, for example, who is no James, but NY hasn't done this even for one season since Melo has arrived in NY, though Melo truly doesn't seem to care that much about winning, though I've seen heard him complain much, though after 2-3 years of incompetent rosters, who could blame him? James could've gone to LAL and joined Kobe, and likely won more than 2 titles than he did with MIA, but he didn't want to play second fiddle to Kobe. Also, his initial salary probably would've been less at least for a year, so I get that. Every player wants to get paid, and every player wants to be 'the man,' just so few have a chance at that.

If half of these reports turn out to be true, LA might be turning into another Howard slightly. Howard's never been happy wherever he's been. LA wanted out of POR to try to achieve more team success, though he had a pretty solid team already, and if he was a top 2-3 player in the league, POR was good enough to win. And now he has to sacrifice a little bit to be on a great team. I don't see him having to sacrifice that much, though. He's never been a super-high scorer, he's already 31, and his best scoring seasons were when Lillard had become a star.

At Friday, October 21, 2016 7:06:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


The media seems particularly bad about it this year. Goran Dragic is somehow being traded for John Wall, Kevin Love, and Rudy Gay all at once (nevermind that his coach has publicly stated he isn't being traded and his GM by all accounts does not want to consider any trades until he's seen 20 games out of the current roster), Russell Westbrook was allegedly headed to LA, Miami, and even Houston before signing his extension, Nerlens Noel is about to be a Warrior, Demarcus Cousins is about to join the Heat/76ers/Suns/WNBA, both Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight are apparently being traded to make room for each other, and John Wall hates the fact that Bradley Beal's being paid more than he is so much that he's demanded a trade to another team that has no power to give him more money any sooner than the Wizards do.

There is a difference between these kind of reports and "trade rumors," which at least acknowledge that they are rumors. Many of these reports are based on no internal source (whereas a rumor is at least usually sourced to "anonymous whoever close to the situation") and many of them have pejorative implications ("Wall/Aldridge is a whiner who only cares about themselves, GMX is disloyal, etc.).

Not sure why it's so much more prevalent this year than last, but it's certainly annoying. Hopefully this nonsense will fade once the season starts.

At Saturday, October 22, 2016 12:13:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I don't know if there is truth to it or not. I have seen firsthand how news is "created"--and I mean that literally, because media members have the power to create "news" where none existed--so I know that it is entirely possible that either (1) the entire thing was made up or (2) the story as reported significantly distorts whatever element of truth it contains.

Without addressing the situation of each player I who I mentioned as not prioritizing winning, it is worth remembering that Melo forced his way out of Denver to New York in a manner that maximized the amount of money he received while forcing New York to give up valuable assets that could have helped the Knicks be contenders. This has all been well documented. Melo has made it clear that what he values is (1) money and (2) the visibility that comes from playing in New York (which is also worth money). A player has the right to maximize his earning potential during the finite time that he can a professional athlete--but after Melo retires with no championship rings I don't want to see any articles lamenting how unfortunate it is that Melo never won a title.

I personally am more impressed by guys like Archibald, McAdoo, Aguirre and Ginobili than I am by guys like Marbury, Arenas, Melo and Harden. All of these players made good money (at least for their respective eras) and they all received at least some personal recognition but the first four players demonstrated that becoming a champion was an important goal for which it was worth sacrificing some personal glory. I respect that a lot.

At Saturday, October 22, 2016 12:23:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Things were hardly perfect during the era when print media dominated but the decline of print media combined with the rise of TV and electronic media has coincided with the disappearance of great writing/true journalism in favor of "hot takes" and a lot of yelling.

Too many of the people covering the league are ignorant about both the sport and the sport's history. Combine that ignorance with the pressure to produce something that will attract people to watch a program or click on a link and we all see what the result is.

Sports Illustrated used to feature great, in depth long form journalism. That genre is rapidly disappearing. Sports Illustrated is still probably the industry leader but today's SI is just a pale imitation of what SI was during its glory years. I won't even insult the memory of the Dick Schaap-edited Sport magazine by comparing it to anything being produced today.

Who is the next Gary Smith or Frank Deford? Guys like Rick Reilly and Tony Kornheiser used to be top notch journalists but they got seduced by ESPN's bags of money. I would so much rather write a thoughtful 3000-4000 word piece than sit in front of a camera offering a 90 second "hot take," but I guess when seven figure deals are being thrown around it is hard to say no.

At Saturday, October 22, 2016 6:19:00 AM, Anonymous AW said...


As good as Aldridge is I never really thought he was capable of leading a tea m to avtitle as its undisputed best player at any point in his career.

He left the Blazers for the Spurs for a better chance at winning. But he'd did have a team in Portland.

At Wednesday, October 26, 2016 11:35:00 AM, Blogger Awet M said...

I missed this article (where has all the good aggregate feeds gone?) but I wonder what was your take of the demolition of the Warriors last night?

It looks like the "superteam" is less a balanced one and more of a Fantasy Basketball lineup.

After being exposed by the Spurs, at least the Warriors have 81 more games to go to reconfigure their team. If I were them i would dump slow moving bigs like Pachulia and West, go for mobile ones like Nerlens Noel. Give up some of their talented wings like McGaw or something.

Bogut's absence need not linger over the season line a stale fart. They can address this problem before the playoffs.

At Wednesday, October 26, 2016 5:07:00 PM, Blogger Andrew Hennings said...

Too early for roster changes Awet, wait and see. All teams take a while to gel.

At Wednesday, October 26, 2016 5:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


LeBron's Heat started out slowly and then won two titles.

The Warriors lack depth and they lack size in the paint but their starting five will be hard to stop once they gel. Only a few teams are equipped to attack the Warriors' weaknesses but the Spurs are one of those teams.

At Wednesday, October 26, 2016 5:37:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree but if the Warriors can acquire some size they would be well advised to do so, unless they are sure that Pachulia and McGee will be reliable in the playoffs.

At Thursday, October 27, 2016 3:19:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

Disagree with either one of the arguments.
I recall Miami Heat in 2010 opening their season at Boston, a team that had been together for three years by then, and made the finals twice. Miami had never played together up till that point, and had won 47 games the preceding season. Miami hung tough with Boston and lost a very close one.

GSW is coming off a 73 win season, and they still have their big three, plus Iguodala and Livingston. Enough corporate knowledge to pass on the newcomers.

Had the Warriors lost by a couple of points, a real playoff-style slugfest, I'd say it was a great game between two powerful teams.

But that game was a 29 point blowout AT HOME that demonstrated several structural weakness of the Warriors that cannot be fixed by a couple of months of chemistry:
inability to secure offensive rebounds leads them to overload the paint, losing long rebounds, or play normally, and lose the short ones.
inability to defend the paint, sans Draymond, allowing penetration.
inability to defend the post up because they lack defenders with size. Therefore, they must double team to defend.

Warriors were fresh at the beginning of the first and third quarters, they played great. But once they got tired defending bigger players, they fell behind. Twice. the 6' 11" Durant does not like mixing it up in the paint. He prefers to stay out there on the perimeter with Curry and Klay.

Last year, LaMarcus Aldridge couldn't really do much against the Warriors, thanks to the superior defense of Bogut. But Tuesday night, he annihilated them.

Zaza Pachulia has not looked the same since he lost his legs halfway through last year. He got what, 1 rebound in 20 minutes?

When your argument relies on Javal McGee turning it around down the road... ;-)

At Thursday, October 27, 2016 4:58:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's the first game of the season, Awet, nothing more. Maybe some of the things you mentioned are valid, but it's too early to tell. Unless something really strange happens, GS will win at least 60 games. They have 4 top 20 players and a former Finals MVP on the team. They do need to find a way to get more production from their 3 centers, though. I can't remember the last time a team who won 60 wasn't a legit title contender. Every team has its weaknesses. Last year, GS and SA were 2 of the top 10-15 teams all time, but each were exposed, and neither won the title.

LA didn't put up numbers much better than should be expected from him. GS can live with this, especially if undersized Green will be playing C some. Can't let Kawhi go for that much, and can't let the SA bench score that much either. Pau finished with 2 and 4, while Zaza finished with 2 and 3. Pretty bad from each, but GS will definitely take those statlines from each.

At Saturday, October 29, 2016 11:40:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


My take is that there is a formula to beat GSW now, just like there was last season: pound GSW in the paint, don't give up open shots and try to wear down Curry. That formula almost worked for OKC and it ultimately worked for Cleveland. It applies even more so this year as GSW sacrificed size and depth in exchange for Durant--but the catch is that only a handful of teams are equipped to apply this formula versus GSW. That is why GSW is still the team to beat. I would not expect to see too many more double digit losses from the Warriors.

At Saturday, October 29, 2016 11:41:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that GSW will win at least 60 games. The Cavs and the Spurs are probably the only teams that can beat a full-strength GSW in a seven game series.

At Monday, October 31, 2016 12:19:00 PM, Blogger Nick said...


I think with the increased vulnerability of GSW"s front-line (they missed Bogut against CLE last year and they'll miss him this year), LAC could have at least a puncher's chance against the Warriors in a seven game series. Possibly Utah as well, though I'm not sure they have enough offense overall for it to matter.

At Wednesday, November 02, 2016 12:10:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


On paper LAC may have a puncher's chance but I don't trust that team in a seven game series against a healthy, elite team.

Utah may be a bit young to take out GSW.


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