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Key Western Conference moving pieces create new contenders

Western Conference stars are moving around and some teams have reloaded.

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Wesley Eggleston | Staff Writer

NBA Free Agency has officially begun, and several big names have either re-upped with their current teams, found a new home, or are still in search of a new arena to star in.  This article will go into detail on all the moving pieces occurring in the Western Conference.

With the 2015 NBA finals now in the rear view mirror and the Golden State Warriors being the champions of the basketball world, it is only fitting to start with them. As for most title winning teams, “keeping the band together” is a recipe for a sustained success and, last Wednesday night, it was announced that the Warriors had resigned forward Draymond Green to a 5 year deal, worth $85 million.

A pretty penny for a player like him, although he was and is a key contributor for the Warriors; I think most non-biased fans would say he isn’t worth as much as he signed for, especially when the likes of 2015 MVP Steph Curry is making less than he is making. In fact, Curry is now the fourth highest paid player on Golden State.  Green is a little undersized but his tenacious energy and effort while on the floor more than makes up for it.

No one can take away the heart he gives his teammates inside Oracle Arena and fans across the Bay Area night in and night out. This past season, Green averaged 11.7 points 8.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists and the Warriors will certainly welcome him back with open arms as they look to repeat.

The next group in the Western Conference list of free agents is a package of players all reigning from the San Antonio Spurs. The biggest name to resign with the Spurs is small forward and 2014 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Leonard averaged 16.5 points and 7.2 rebounds this year.  Head Coach Gregg Popovich has said repeatedly that Leonard is the future of this organization, and it will be up to him to fill the shoes of “Big Three” Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, which will not be an easy task.  Let’s count the ways on how that task assignment just got a whole lot easier for the small forward though.

Leonard’s wingman in crime, Danny Green has also resigned with the Spurs on a four year 45 million dollar deal.  Green averaged 8.3 points per game, with a 34.4 field goal percentage.  This signing came as quite a surprise to some, as it was thought the price tag and demand for Green’s sharp shooting would be a price the Spurs could not afford.  Green for those who have forgot, broke the NBA Finals record for most three pointers made in a game back in the 2013 NBA Finals with six.

Along with his shooting, Green is also a good perimeter defender who can frustrate the best of them with nagging defense.  Playing alongside Kawhi Leonard, this duo will be shutting down guards and the like together for several more years to come.  But wait there’s more, and this news could turnout to be bigger than the Kawhi signing.

Something amazing and exciting fell into the lap of the already prominent San Antonio organization Saturday morning….

LaMarcus Aldridge.

After being coveted and wooed by several teams, some more than once, he has decided to sign with the San Antonio Spurs.  In making the move, he is also able to go back to his home state of Texas and be close to family and friends who can now watch him play more than ever.  Seemingly the new desire for players in the NBA, just ask LeBron James…

Aldridge has spent his entire nine-year-career playing in Portland and, although he has had personal success in his career numbers wise averaging 23.4 points and 10.2 rebounds this past season, he and his former teammates in Portland had struggled to do anything worthwhile come playoff time.  This is something any superstar would have a hard time with once you get in in the playoffs, it is all about the championship.

He has now chosen one of the ultimate championship-winning franchises in the Spurs, with one of the best GM’s in sports, R.C. Bruford, who will make sure that the pieces are always in place for long playoff runs. If he needs help establishing himself in San Antonio,  Aldridge will be able to turn to the Spurs greatest player of time in Tim Duncan, who recently announced, “I’ll be back on the court”.  Duncan has made sure during his entire career in San Antonio that, love them or hate them, the Spurs are a topic of discussion come time for the  playoffs.

He now passes that proverbial torch to Aldridge with high expectations.  Duncan had the benefit to learn from his on-court mentor in Hall of Fame center David Robinson on how to be the guy in San Antonio and, now, Duncan has to do the same for a younger superstar post player to keep the tradition going, which a guy like Tim Duncan will have no problem doing. He can undoubtedly teach Aldridge a thing or two in the post and, more importantly, how to win in the playoffs.

You’d be hard pressed to name a franchise that has been able to hold down having a super star big man for more than twenty five years going strong.  He now has taken a job where team work outweighs being a superstar that has to make big contributions every night just to have a chance to win.  To potentially win a ring this upcoming season, and maybe beyond, Aldridge will have to be a towering force alongside Duncan for his swan song years.  Aldridge is no scrub, and people might have overlooked him and what he has accomplished as a player being in Portland, but rest assured Spurs fans, the man can ball!

Las Vegas already has the Spurs with the best odds to win the championship next season.  The Spurs on average make it at least past the first round, and usually find themselves at least in the conference finals to take a shot at reaching the big stage of the finals.  Tim Duncan and company, now adding Aldridge only solidifies that to be the case for several more years to come now.

As a bonus to Aldridge, and it was probably discussed as a point of interest prior to his announcement, Coach Pop said he will honor Aldridge’s four year contract after speculation that he would retire when Tim Duncan walks out the door. The Spurs continue to prove the league wrong about when they will stop being a topic of discussion and these signings are just the latest examples.

Lastly, Paul Pierce will be signing a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers in a move that will reunite Pierce with Head Coach Doc Rivers, who helped him win a championship back in 2008 in Boston. Pierce averaged 11.9 points last season with the Wizards and was most remembered in the playoffs this year for draining a three that was waved off in the end of Game six in the Eastern Conference Semis.

Certainly he can still make plays for a team and that’s what he is hoping to be able to contribute to his new Clippers team.  Perhaps he will be able to bring the Clippers what they desperately need to prove that they are not phonies in the city of Los Angeles.  Although they shocked the world, and beat the Spurs in seven games in the first round of the playoffs this year, they wet the bed in typical Clipper fashion in the second round losing to the Houston Rockets; a series they lead 3-1.

As former football coach of the Arizona Cardinals Dennis Green once said, “They are who we thought they were”, and the Clippers failed to move on to the Western Conference Finals.  Maybe Pierce can be “The Truth” and lead a team starred by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin past the second round,  a feat that arguably the best point guard in the league has yet to do in his 9+ year career.  At this point, one could say that his “brother” Cliff Paul is better than Chris but that’s a different argument for another day.

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