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NBA free agency 2015: What the Spurs signing LaMarcus Aldridge means for the Warriors

The path to repeating as NBA champions just got more difficult for the Warriors with the Spurs agreeing to terms with unrestricted free agent LaMarcus Aldridge.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

In the beginning of free agency, the Golden State Warriors seemed to be maintaining their considerable advantage over the rest of the league without making any splashy moves.

As Mike Prada of SB Nation has written, "The L.A. Clippers are screwed with DeAndre Jordan." With the L.A. Lakers and Sacramento Kings doing very little on the free agency improvement front, the 2016 Pacific Division title appeared to be the Warriors' to lose — even if the Phoenix Suns landed LaMarcus Aldridge in free agency, the Warriors would clearly be the top team in their division on paper.

Perhaps more importantly, the very possibility that the Suns could sign Aldridge instead of the San Antonio Spurs provided hope that the Warriors would enter the 2015-16 as a pretty strong favorite to win the 2015-16 NBA title.

And for a time, it was good.

But then Aldridge kept meeting with the Spurs and possible Jedi Gregg Popovich. Then the Spurs actually agreed to terms with Aldridge. Thus the dynasty in San Antonio looked poised to mount a challenge for the title once again.

It's not that you ever really could count the Spurs out — the Popovich and Tim Duncan coach-player duo is legend, not only in the NBA realm but at this point in U.S. pro sports. But the addition of Aldridge casts a larger shadow of doubt, at the very least, over the Warriors' chances for a title defense, which makes the regular season standings significantly more important for the coming season — home court advantage might be the decisive factor in determining a) who emerges as the West's representative in the Finals and b) who gets to avoid the elite the longest.

While the Warriors will likely have the biggest target on their backs this season after storming through the league in the 2014-15 season, the Spurs and (a presumably healthy) Oklahoma City Thunder will likely be right there on their heels jockeying for the top spot in the Western Conference.

The obvious reason that the Spurs + Aldridge should strike fear into our hearts is that Popovich and that system will only maximize Aldridge's strengths, which will make him even more dangerous and thus make the Spurs an even more formidable contender. Even if we won't know the specifics of how the pieces fit and function together as a whole, we can just assume that part. But there are a couple of other reasons why this causes problems for the Warriors.

1. The Spurs can match the Warriors' small ball lineup

The Spurs were one team that could go toe-to-toe with the Warriors small ball lineups and truly hope to be successful. That becomes even more true with the addition of Aldridge to that scheme. As it stood, they could run Boris Diaw or Kawhi Leonard at the four to get smaller. With Aldridge being a pretty good small ball five option and their skill as scorers small or big, the Warriors' small ball lineups will have a harder time wreaking havoc in small configurations. Aldridge's length makes him a tougher cover for Green, which gives the Spurs some options other teams won't have.

2. Aldridge adds another strong decision-maker in the post to the Spurs

What makes the Spurs offense so dangerous is not simply that they have shooters but that they get those perimeter shooters good looks around the 3-point arc. With Aldridge now in the mix, they just have another option for how to create high-percentage shots.

3. Whatever the Spurs lost defensively this offseason, they've likely gained offensively

The Spurs do have some questions remaining after signing Aldridge. Manu Ginobili still needs to make a big decision about his career, they still need to juggle some numbers to sign a few extra guys to fill out their rotation, and — the biggest critique coming up on Twitter — they'll have to find someone who can match up with bigger fives consistently.

But let's not kid ourselves: any questions we have about that roster right now are primarily the type of advanced questions that could almost remain unanswered until the latter stages of the playoffs — this is a very good basketball roster that the Spurs have assembled, representing a combination of a strong vision, shrewd financial management, and a family atmosphere that breeds sacrifice from its veteran stars. They're going to be a problem for the Warriors and the rest of the league this season and as long as their aging Big Three keeps suiting up.

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