San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and forward LaMarcus Aldridge had a well-publicized heart-to-heart meeting over the summer that helped Aldridge feel more comfortable with his role on the team. Since then, whatever Aldridge and Popovich talked about has worked -- Aldridge leads the Spurs (and ranks ninth among starting NBA forwards) in scoring (22.9 ppg), rebounding (8.6 rpg) and blocks (1.4) and San Antonio is one of the Western Conference's best teams.
In an interview with ESPN.com's Michael C. Wright, Popovich revealed that during their discussion last summer, Aldridge initially came to hime with a trade request. During that time frame, Wright had reported that as the 2017 Draft neared, the Spurs had been in contact with at least three teams about a possible trade involving Aldridge (which never materialized).
Popovich pointed to that candid interaction with Aldridge as somewhat of a catalyst for the two coming to a better understanding before the start of the season. Asked what helped to bring about Aldridge's resurgent 2017-18 campaign, Popovich deadpanned: "When he said, 'I want to be traded.'"
"It's as simple as that," Popovich said. "I said, 'Whoa, nobody's ever said that to me before.' It's my 20-whatever year, and nobody's ever said that like, 'I'm not enjoying this. I'm not confident. I'm not sure you want me here. I want to be traded.'"
Popovich acknowledged the meeting and admitted the two shared some laughs over what would seem to be tense moments.
"So, we had some dinners and meetings and laughed," Popovich said. "I was very candid with him. I told him, 'I'd be happy to trade you. You get me a talent like Kevin Durant, and I'll drive you to the airport. I'll pack your bags. And I will drive you there, get you on the plane, and get you seated.' He laughed you know, that kind of thing. I said, 'But short of that, I'm your best buddy because you're here for another year, and you ain't going nowhere. Because we're not gonna get for you talentwise what we would want. So, let's figure this thing out.' And we did. That's what we came to."
Aldridge struggled in the playoffs for the Spurs, averaging career postseason lows in scoring (16.5 ppg), rebounds (7.4) and blocks (1.0). Additionally, he quiet in the final three games of the Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors, a series the Spurs were swept in after forward Kawhi Leonard suffered a Game 1 ankle injury. Aldridge averaged 11.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg and shot 38.5 percent in Games 2 through 4 of the West finals.
Popovich told Wright he realized during his discussion with Aldridge that he was to blame for much of his star forward's struggles.
"As discussions went on, it became apparent to me that it really was me," Popovich said. "He'd been playing in the league for nine years. I'm not going to turn him into some other player. I could do some things defensively or reboundingwise. But on offense, I was going to move him everywhere. That was just silly on my part -- total overcoaching. So, we took care of it, and he's been fantastic."