Why Spurs and Aldridge committed to their less-than-perfect pairing

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SAN ANTONIO -- LaMarcus Aldridge looked up, then down, before firing back a "yeah, right" stare when asked whether he planned to return to the San Antonio Spurs after the 2017-18 season as opposed to opting out of his contract.

That was in May.

"I don't want to answer that," he said at the time. "We'll see."

What we're witnessing now is a couple in an imperfect marriage that realizes moving forward is beneficial for both sides to make this work. That's why the parties, as ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported, agreed to a three-year, $72.3 million extension that enables Aldridge to opt into the $22.3 million player option for the 2018-19 season and extend his contract for a maximum of three additional years.

Aldridge could've also exercised the opt-out option in his contract for '18-19. But doing that would have presented a risk, as there are no guarantees Aldridge would have found a long-term deal in free agency as lucrative as what he'll receive in San Antonio. From the team's standpoint, it would have been rolling the dice to let Aldridge walk, too, as the Spurs didn't appear to see a better alternative available in free agency to play alongside superstar Kawhi Leonard.

New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry once joked that people have predicted the closing of San Antonio's championship window for the past 20 years, but it's shrewd moves such as this that have kept it wide open.

Aldridge admitted to ESPN that he wasn't happy at times during his two seasons since signing as a free agent from Portland. The organization felt similar frustration toward Aldridge. But rather than the sides simply deciding to part ways, it appears both looked at the situation with needed nuance.

When Aldridge signed with the Spurs before the start of the '15-16 season, he was the most sought-after player in free agency and was placed into the predicament of filling the shoes of a legend in Tim Duncan. Couple those lofty expectations with the fact he also expected to be the team's No. 1 option on offense when he signed. But then Leonard blossomed into an MVP candidate.

Everything changed for Aldridge, but he never complained publicly.

It's no coincidence that rumblings about Aldridge's unhappiness typically seeped out before or after these past two seasons but never in the middle of them.

Aldridge is set to earn $21.4 million in '17-18, and if he didn't do a new deal by midnight, the power forward could've amended the contract sometime during the season to eliminate his '18-19 player option and extend for another four seasons.

Aldridge finished last season averaging 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds and has averaged 19.1 points and 8.3 rebounds over 11 years in the NBA.

"The success he's had, the stability that he's brought to the franchise, is just underappreciated," Spurs general manager R.C. Buford told ESPN.com last May. "I just think there are a lot of things that people don't appreciate about what LaMarcus has brought to our group, our team, our organization. He's made the transition of this year's team after Tim [Duncan] very, very successful without getting very much recognition. Oftentimes, he's gotten overlooked or maybe even misjudged."

That still didn't stop the organization, a couple of months later, from exploring the possibility of trading Aldridge, who took the news in stride, recognizing the business aspect of professional sports.

After that happened, Aldridge requested a one-on-one meeting with Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich over the summer to clear the air. Popovich was receptive to Aldridge's feelings and admitted he wasn't utilizing his power forward in the most efficient ways. Now, the entire team is making a concerted effort to improve communication and better involve Aldridge.

With Leonard out of action since the start of training camp, we've seen Aldridge take up the mantle offensively, dropping 26 points to go with 10 rebounds, three assists and a pair of steals on Saturday as the Spurs closed out the preseason at Houston.

That's not to say that production from Aldridge will automatically continue Wednesday once the regular season starts. But the Spurs know they're a much better team with Aldridge than without him -- now and in the future.

Throughout the Western Conference this past offseason, teams such as Minnesota, Oklahoma City and Houston used star acquisitions to improve their rosters to gain ground on the Golden State Warriors. But in typical fashion, San Antonio stood relatively pat, instead opting to build the chemistry and cohesion already on the roster.

This latest move only bolsters that philosophy.

So while the marriage is far from perfect, the Spurs and LaMarcus Aldridge recognize it's still what's best for both parties.