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What LaMarcus Aldridge's arrival means for the Brooklyn Nets

Can Aldridge help KD, Kyrie and Harden get the Brooklyn Nets over the top for a championship?
12:00 AM GMT

Can seven-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge help the Brooklyn Nets' NBA title push?

In a surprising outcome, the 35-year-old Aldridge picked the Nets as his next destination two days after completing a buyout with the San Antonio Spurs, as reported Saturday by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

How will Aldridge fit a Brooklyn roster that is already integrating post-buyout pickup Blake Griffin? And what does Aldridge's decision to sign with the Nets rather than the Miami Heat, widely considered front-runners, mean for the rest of the buyout market? Let's break it down.

Brooklyn frontcourt getting crowded with big names

Adding Aldridge solidifies the Nets as one of the most star-studded rosters in NBA history. Combining Aldridge's seven All-Star appearances with 11 for Kevin Durant, nine for James Harden, seven for Kyrie Irving, six for Griffin and one for DeAndre Jordan gives Brooklyn a total of 41 on the roster, the most since the 2013-14 Heat (also 41). Only the Boston Celtics in 2010-11 (56) and 2011-12 (43) have surpassed that total since the NBA-ABA merger.

Of course, there's a big distinction between the Nets' three current All-Stars, all of them playing at peak levels, and the newcomers. Like Griffin, Aldridge was last an All-Star in 2019 and fell out of his previous team's plans this season. That was more surprising in Aldridge's case because the Spurs are in the playoff hunt. (At 22-20, the Spurs would enter the play-in tournament in eighth position if the season ended today.) San Antonio simply decided Jakob Poeltl was a better option at center, an indicator of how Aldridge's game has eroded in his mid-30s.

Finding enough playing time in the frontcourt to keep everyone happy could prove a challenge for Brooklyn coach Steve Nash. Remember, playing Griffin at center was part of the idea when he signed with the Nets earlier this month. So far, the majority of Griffin's minutes have come at power forward -- 42 of his 55 total, per my analysis of lineup data from NBA Advanced Stats. But there might not be as many minutes available at the 4 once Durant returns from his hamstring strain.

LaMarcus Aldridge, a seven-time All-Star, joins Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin in Brooklyn's frontcourt. AP Photo/Eric Gay

How does Aldridge fit?

If Griffin is back in a mix at center along with Aldridge and starter Jordan, that would give Brooklyn three former All-Stars at the position. And the issue for the Nets is that neither Griffin nor Jordan has been the team's best option at center since Jarrett Allen was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers as part of the deal for Harden. Instead, that's been second-year reserve Nicolas Claxton, an above-the-rim finisher in the same vein as Allen.

Brooklyn Nets centers, by net rating Player Min ORtg Drtg Net DeAndre Jordan 998 114.9 112.8 +2.8 Jeff Green 409 119.3 118.1 +1.2 Jarrett Allen 319 117.6 105.1 +12.5 Nicolas Claxton 265 117.1 100.3 +16.9 *Minimum 200 minutes

The most potent offensive Nets lineups have come with the 6-foot-8 Jeff Green at center, putting an extra 3-point shooter on the court. However, Brooklyn has predictably struggled defensively without a traditional center in the paint. Lineups with Allen and Claxton have provided the best mix at both ends, supplying both better offense and better defense than those with Jordan -- who's likely a permanent fixture in the rotation given his role in helping convince friends Durant and Irving to team up with the Nets.

The hope, surely, is that Aldridge can provide the best of both worlds by allowing Brooklyn to play five-out lineups with more size than those with Green at center. Aldridge should improve on those units as a rim protector. Opponents have made just 59% of those attempts inside five feet with Aldridge as a primary defender this season, according to Second Spectrum tracking on NBA Advanced Stats, which is not as good as Allen (51%) or Claxton (55%) but substantially better than Green (69%). And Aldridge hit 39% of his 3-point attempts in 2019-20 before slipping a bit to 36% so far this season.

The biggest question there is whether Aldridge can keep up in the switching-heavy defenses the Nets have favored since the Harden trade. Per Second Spectrum, no team has switched more picks this season than Brooklyn; meanwhile, Aldridge has switched just nine picks while defending the screener all season, according to its tracking.

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The potential downside of this move is that Claxton will be the odd man out as Nash is forced to rely on Aldridge and Griffin, who presumably got some assurances of playing time as part of their decisions as free agents, along with Jordan. The other negative outcome would be playing bigger lineups with Griffin and Green at power forward, pushing Durant to small forward and taking quality role players Bruce Brown and Joe Harris off the court.

So while the initial reaction to the Nets adding yet another famous All-Star is awe at how star-studded the roster now looks, I'm not certain this move helps Brooklyn's title odds. That will depend on how Aldridge's game responds to playing with better teammates -- we've already seen Griffin look revitalized as compared to his ineffective play with the Detroit Pistons earlier this season -- and how judicious Nash is with his center rotation.

Who joins Drummond and Dieng?

With the first two former All-Stars to reach buyouts joining the Nets, the attention now shifts to the third such player available as a free agent: fellow center Andre Drummond, most recently with the Cavaliers. Drummond has emerged as a front-runner to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Saturday. The Lakers have two open roster spots after declining to sign center Damian Jones after the conclusion of his second and final 10-day contract.

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The expectation on Thursday was that Aldridge was headed to the Heat, who traded starting power forward Kelly Olynyk to the Houston Rockets as part of their deal for Victor Oladipo. Because the Heat also added forward Nemanja Bjelica at the deadline, they don't necessarily need to add a starter via the buyout market, but they'll certainly be in the mix for other players. After an active week leading up to the deadline, Miami has just enough room under the luxury-tax line to sign a player now for the prorated veterans minimum.

Last week, I wrote that Gorgui Dieng might be the most effective player available via buyout, because his role-player skills are a better fit on contending teams than those of former stars. Indeed, the Memphis Grizzlies agreed to a buyout with Dieng last week, putting him on the market.

It remains to be seen whether Dieng and Drummond are joined by a handful of players who were traded to lottery-bound teams on Thursday. Olynyk is one reasonable candidate, while Otto Porter Jr. is another, after he went from the Chicago Bulls to the Orlando Magic in the Nikola Vucevic trade.

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