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Aldridge gets courted by many -- but decision in his court

Western Conference suitors woo franchise-changing forward

POSTED: Jul 2, 2015 10:52 AM ET

By Fran Blinebury

BY Fran Blinebury


Free Agent Fever: Courting Aldridge

Isiah Thomas and Bryan Colangelo look at the various options for LaMarcus Aldridge as he tests free agency.

The San Antonio Spurs cleared the deck, sending Tiago Splitter off to the Atlanta Hawks for a wink and a smile.

Mike Budenholzer cleared the way, taking Splitter off the hands of his team and his old mentor Gregg Popovich, maybe just as a way of saying thanks.

Now it's only about who LaMarcus Aldridge wants to be.

The Los Angeles Lakers apparently struck out in their sit-down with Aldridge because Kobe Bryant couldn't resist being, well, Kobe and the lure of seeing celebrities on the sidelines and the draw of sun and sand didn't cut it for a guy who already owns a beachfront house in Santa Monica.

So the Houston Rockets came in with their charts and numbers and golly-gee-we're-gonna-conquer-the-world-as-soon-as-they-start-handing-out-trophies-for-what-you-do-on-paper routine, not to mention a pair of studs in James Harden and Dwight Howard, even though the rest of the cupboard would be left bare.

The Dallas Mavericks have received help in their bid for the plum free agent from Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys. How would L.A. feel about calling the coin flip along with Tony Romo before every home game? Mavs owner Mark Cuban is also still in there pitching Clippers free agent DeAndre Jordan to play center in Dallas in what could be a sizable front line along with Dirk Nowitzki.

Free Agent Fever: Los Angeles Lakers

Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding joins GameTime to speak on the Lakers' moves in free agency.

The Phoenix Suns came in late, but made pre-emptive moves by signing center Tyson Chandler away from the Mavs, re-upping guard Brandon Knight to a five-year, $70 million deal and have also pledged not to move Eric Bledsoe. The message is that they're ready to win now. Toss in the miracle workers on the Phoenix training staff and the Suns might have also promised Aldridge perfect health and that they can keep him going All-Star strong to age 50.

Then there's the Spurs, the team that Aldridge has reportedly admired from afar for years, with Tim Duncan, the player that L.A. always said was his idol. After moving out Splitter, they found a way to keep Danny Green (four years, $45 million) and thus a formidable starting five as Aldridge climbs aboard.

If it's just about getting the most money right now, Aldridge stays in Portland, where the Trail Blazers can pay him another $27 million more than anybody else and he can resume his once-stated quest to become the greatest player in franchise history.

Or he could commit to his best shot at winning a championship. Which would another kind of commitment entirely.

For nine seasons nobody has questioned Aldridge's ability to score points, collect rebounds, even growing as a defender at the rim.

Free Agent Fever: Phoenix Suns

Paul Coro of joins GameTime to speak on the moves made by the Phoenix Suns in free agency.

What's still unknown is what exactly makes him tick? A year ago, he met with Blazers general manager Neil Olshey and team owner Paul Allen and told them he would re-sign to stay in Portland at this time. But that was before another Blazers season ended in disappointment and before there was talking of Aldridge being "distant" from his teammates during the first-round loss to Memphis, sometimes staying apart from them during timeout huddles.

After nine seasons in Portland, Aldridge has won just a single playoff series and even then the Blazers were dismissively smacked 4-1 by the eventual champion Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals.

Twelve months ago, being in it for the long haul with the only NBA team he's ever known as the Blazers seemed to be a team on the rise, might have felt like a good idea. Now a year later, after everything went off the tracks with Wesley Matthews' torn Achilles tendon in March that led to a sub-.500 finish, there are tantalizing options.

But while the Spurs have made no secret of their desire to bring him into the fold as a tall, talented bridge from the Duncan-to-Kawhi Leonard Eras, Aldridge has to decide if he really can be one of them. It's one thing to say how much you respect Popovich and quite another to keep that respect and not lose your cool the first or 21st time that Pop blows his top and "goes Serbian."

They've all felt that hot wrath, from Tony Parker as a 19-year-old to Manu Ginobili as an international star, to even the 38-year-old Duncan just last season on the occasion that he might have made a mistake.

They have all accepted it and moved on because they have all bought into Popovich's philosophy and the Spurs' culture. There is no room for feeling slighted, as might have been the case in Portland, because Brandon Roy or Damian Lillard got more of the public love. When they pass around the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June, everybody is an equal part of the group hug.

Aldridge would have to make the move to San Antonio knowing that Duncan will always be Duncan and a soon-to-be 30-year-old free agent just can't replace nearly two decades of championship play on the court and All-Star leadership in the locker room. What's more, Popovich has already anointed Leonard as the "future face of the franchise" and the Spurs have agreed to a new five-year, $90-million with the 2014 Finals MVP to make that even clearer.

The apple of everyone's eye would join the Spurs as a highly-paid, royally-recruited piece of the puzzle, but still no more than another piece. Can he handle that?

The cards, the charts, the pitches and the money are on the table. It's the only question left for Aldridge to answer.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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