Toronto had better be ready for what’s coming. For the first time anyone can remember, a current All-Star free agent wants to talk about joining the Raptors. LaMarcus Aldridge will be visiting with several NBA teams the moment free agency opens and Toronto unexpectedly could have the inside track, although he will be in demand as discussed by Basketball Insiders Steve Kyler.
Aldridge will start meeting with teams tonight in Los Angeles, with the Lakers expected to be the first team to pitch, followed by Houston, San Antonio, Phoenix and Dallas. Toronto and New York are expected to get the final two meetings on Thursday.
While every team will be throwing their best influencers at Aldridge in the attempt to convince him to sign with them, the Raptors Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have been doing some recruiting of their own and in no small measure, they are the reason Toronto has their foot in the door. The Raptors other advantage is they have the salary cap space to make a maximum offer without doing anything and that’s something the other ‘favorites’ simply can’t say.
Sources say that veteran point guard Kyle Lowry may have been in Aldridge’s ear a little to help secure the sit down. The Raptors dumped off the contract of Greivis Vásquez to ensure they had a full max salary slot to offer and are pitching the “one player” away concept. The fact that both Lowry and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan are said to be actively recruiting helps the Raptors since both are well respected by other NBA players.
If Aldridge wanted to re-sign with the Trail Blazers he would. His current team can offer the most money on the best terms and would instantly cave to any contract demand they’d be permitted to honor under the CBA, but Aldridge knows all that and he’s still looking elsewhere. It’s a very nice safety net that isn’t likely to be used.
Lakers and Knicks
The Lakers and the Knicks have lots of salary cap space, great markets and almost no team to speak of to join. Unless Aldridge is moving for lifestyle, neither of these markets is ready to add a big name player and promise much of anything beyond an improving future. If Aldridge wanted to help a team rebuild, he didn’t have to leave Portland.
Returning home to Texas must have its appeal for Aldridge. No state income tax, great climate, and familiar surroundings – it’s a option a free agent could only hope for, but…
Houston has $54.6 million in guaranteed salaries for next season plus a $2.7 million cap hold for Patrick Beverley and that only leaves about half as much cap room as the Rockets need to make a max offer. Home is nice, but that kind of a discount isn’t going to get the job done. The Rockets will have to jump through several flaming hoops to create enough space without downgrading their roster in order to sign Aldridge.
Dallas has almost $35 million in salary cap space, but with only four players under contract, they have a lot of work to do before they’ll be able to convince anyone about what kind of team they’ll be able to field. Maybe Aldridge is willing to be that first piece in the door that helps attract some viable warm bodies to play with – he’ll have to be patient and take some risks if he wants to play in his hometown next season.
The Spurs have that cachet that only winning can bring. What they don’t have is salary cap space. With only $34 million in guaranteed contracts on the books, it looks like there is plenty of room to sign Aldridge, but look again. There’s a cap hold of $15 million for Tim Duncan. There are cap holds totaling $16 million for restricted free agents Cory Joseph, Aron Baynes and Kawhi Leonard. Not to mention the $22 million in cap holds for Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Marco Belinelli. The Spurs might deem it worth it to jump thru the necessary hoops and lose most of their long list of free agents (except Duncan) in order to nab Aldridge? Might.
The most likely scenario that makes room for Aldridge is to immediately re-sign Duncan to a favorable deal, make that rumored trade of Tiago Splitter and his $8.5 million contract to Cleveland for Brandan Haywood’s non-guaranteed deal happen and risk losing just about every other free agent they control except Leonard and hopefully one more player. It would be worth it.
Phoenix appears to have room for Aldridge and there is no doubt they’d like to land the All-Star, but their apparent space is heavily encroached by the $8.9 million cap hold of Brandon Knight and it will take some nerve to walk away from him. The Suns can do this if they really want to.
Toronto has about $24 million in salary cap space and other than this year’s draft picks, no cap holds they aren’t prepared to walk away from. Aldridge slides beautifully into the Raptors existing starting lineup of last season at power forward, taking the spot vacated by free agent Amir Johnson and that alone must have Aldridge’s attention:
1) Aldridge will not be expected to play center in Toronto.
2) The Raptors won 49 games last season missing their All-Star shooting guard DeRozan for 22 games and featuring the 9.3 points and 6.1 rebounds of Johnson at power forward. Slide in the 23 points and 10 boards Aldridge knows he is good for and the Raptors will instantly gain a ton of respect in the weak East.
If Aldridge has become the least bit frustrated about having to fight through the Spurs, Clippers, Thunder, Rockets, Grizzlies and now the Warriors every year, a trip east to a winning Raptors organization should start looking pretty good indeed.
It will always be tough to argue against joining the Spurs, assuming the Spurs can get the job done quickly enough to make room for Aldridge, but if that room comes from sending Splitter to Cleveland, the Raptors could still come out of this situation smiling big time.
With Splitter in Cleveland, the Cavaliers will have to say good-bye to Tristan Thompson or say hello to another $40 million in luxury tax.
The Cavs will likely owe the league well over $70 million in tax if Griffin re-signs his key free agents, so those rumors about using Brandan Haywood’s $10.5 million non-guaranteed deal to bring in yet another player for depth – at a luxury tax cost of about $4.75 per dollar or $47.5 million – seem to ring just a little hollow.
It’s one or the other but not both in Cleveland.
Similarly, the Spurs will be hard pressed to keep RFA Cory Joseph as they’ll have other more pressing needs on the wing, opening the door for the Raptors to swoop in and grab both of the young Canadian free agents they covet. That would represent a very good day in Toronto.
Nothing should surprise anyone when it comes to free agency, but on the eve of an epic movement involving more superstars than you could shake a stick at, the Raptors appear to have the inside track on landing one LaMarcus Aldridge and if that falls through, a first rate consolation prize of Thompson and Joseph.