When players request trades, it's always easy for coaches to say they're selfish or not buying into the team's philosophy. It's even easier to do so when no one has ever asked that coach for a trade. In fact, most coaches could be forgiven for doing so. But most coaches aren't Gregg Popovich. So when LaMarcus Aldridge asked Popovich for a trade before the 2017 season, Popovich did some serious reflection.
No one needs to be reminded that Pop is an incredible coach. But Popovich's reaction to Aldridge's trade request only reaffirms how great he really is.
"He said, 'I want to be traded,'" Popovich said of Aldridge, via mysanantonio.com. "And I said, 'Whoa, nobody has ever said that to me before.' He said, 'I'm not enjoying this. I'm not confident. I'm not sure you want me here. I want to be traded.'"
It's easy to see why Aldridge's confidence would be shaken after his first two seasons. He was averaging 17.6 points per game, down from the 20.9 he was averaging with Portland between 2008 and 2014 when he was getting consistent minutes. The Spurs may seem rigid in their system, with the evergreen veterans and the grizzled feel of the team, but Popovich was ready to be malleable for a star like Aldridge.
"I was very candid with him," Popovich said. "I told him I would be happy to trade him. You get me a talent like Kevin Durant and I will drive you to the airport. I will pack your bags and I will drive you there,' and he laughed. And I said, 'Short of that I am your best buddy, and you are here for another year and you ain't going nowhere because for you talent-wise, we are not going to get what we want, so let's figure this thing out. And we did."
Popovich reworked the offense to make Aldridge more comfortable. He didn't overhaul it, he just tweaked it. Now, Aldridge is averaging 22.6 points per game for the Spurs, and he has a new three-year, $72 million contract with the Spurs. All less than a year after Aldridge wanted out.
For many coaches, their downfall can be stubbornness or a refusal to accept that not all players are "system players." More accurately, a refusal to accept that players don't fit their system. Popovich accepted that with Aldridge, and now the big man is having a year that challenges the 2013 and 2014 campaigns that got him this contract. Aldridge is immensely talented, and the Spurs are a great team. As long as Popovich is there, the Spurs will continue to stay great, and cases like Aldridge prove that.