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.'”
During training camp, Aldridge told ESPN that in a meeting over the summer with Popovich he “just spilled my heart about how I felt about how things were, and how things had been going.”
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 averaged postseason career-lows in points (16.5 per game), rebounds (7.4) and blocks (1.0) last season, which represented a contrast to the forward’s production over his past two postseason appearances with the Portland Trail Blazers, when he averaged 24.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.
In Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets, Aldridge finished with a career-low four points. Then, during the conference finals against the Golden State Warriors, Aldridge failed to step up and carry the team offensively with Kawhi Leonard hobbled by a sprained ankle, leading the coach to single out the forward during his postgame remarks for being “timid.”
After sitting down with Aldridge over the summer, however, Popovich realized he had actually played a role in some of Aldridge’s struggles.
Aldridge has scored 30-plus points in back-to-back outings, and he has put together four consecutive contests in which he has scored at least 24 points. Aldridge has averaged 25.3 points over his past eight games, and he has posted four double-doubles over his last five games.
“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.”