SAN ANTONIO — The Lakers made a strategic mistake. The approach arguably had bigger implications than Kobe Bryant initially nursing a heavy workload and rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell and second-year forward Julius Randle coming off the bench.
Lakers coach Byron Scott agreed with LaMarcus Aldridge’s criticism that the Lakers’ first free agent meeting focused too much discussing business opportunities than basketball strategy, something Scott said is “probably where we made our mistake.” Shortly after, Aldridge signed with the San Antonio Spurs to a four-year, $80 million contract.
All of which leaves the Lakers admitting they need to change their pitch in future free agent meetings, beginning in the 2016 offseason.
“Seventy five percent or more of it will be about the basketball part,” Scott said following morning shootaround before the Lakers (3-19) play the Spurs (18-5) on Friday at AT&T Center. “The other part will be about the business part of it as well. We found out from a great player that he was more interested in the basketball on the court stuff than anything else.”
The Lakers also struck out on pursuing DeAndre Jordan (who withdrew his verbal commitment with Dallas and re-signed with the Clippers) and Greg Monroe (who left Detroit for Milwaukee). In the previous two offseasons, the Lakers also failed to retain Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol while also missing out on LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
Despite leaving Aldridge with a bad first impression, the Lakers landed a second meeting where Scott said involved “all basketball” with himself, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and Lakers player development coach Mark Madsen. But the sentiment around the NBA suggested that Aldridge granted the Lakers a second meeting to save face.
“When he made his choice and texted each other, I wished him all the best,” Scott said of Aldridge. “I have a lot of respect for him and like him as a person and love him as a player.”
Scott has since believed Aldridge “fits pretty well” with San Antonio as he has since averaged 15.4 points on 45.5 percent shooting and 8.8 rebounds in 29.4 minutes per games. Those are slight dropoffs from his career average of 19.3 points on 48.4 percent shooting in 35.3 minutes per game through nine NBA seasons with Portland. But Aldridge has teamed up with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard en route to the second best record in the Western Conference. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich also has overseen the franchise’s past five NBA championships in the last 16 years.
“We don’t try to convince people very honestly,” Popovich said. “That’s overblown that we’re going to have some kind of salesman deal. We tried to sell Jason Kidd [in 2003]. It didn’t work. We had mariachis and everything and all kinds of stuff. After that, I decided, ‘Never again.’ IF they come, they come. If they don’t, I don’t care.”
Meanwhile, the Lakers filled their big-man vacancy by acquiring Roy Hibbert in a trade from Indiana for a second-round pick. Hibbert has 7.7 points on 45.9 percent shooting and 6.5 rebounds. Though the Lakers like his leadership and defensive presence, the Lakers still rank 27 out of 30 NBA teams in total points allowed (106.3).
If the Lakers landed Aldridge, how much would their fortunes have changed?
“I have no idea,” Scott said. “It is a big ‘What if?'”