There was a time – we’ll call it “earlier this week” – when the Los Angeles Lakers were the most improved team in the NBA. They were going to sign LaMarcus Aldridge, they were going to sign DeAndre Jordan, Kobe Bryant was gearing up for one final season, and the Lakers were going to contend for a championship.

We’ll see about Jordan and Bryant, but Aldridge? That’s out the door.

Aldridge met with Los Angeles on Tuesday but was apparently not impressed with the Lakers’ presentation, which means the San Antonio Spurs are the likely favorites to land the 29-year-old free agent.

“That’s the thing about this,” Bleacher Report senior NBA writer Ethan Skolnick said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “Modern players are savvier than people give them credit for, and this idea that you can just flash those Laker banners and everybody’s going to go, ‘Oh, I have to play for this franchise’ – that doesn’t work anymore. Guys want to know who they’re going to be playing with. They want to know what the cap situation is. They want to know what the young talent on the roster is. They want to know how they’re going to be featured. And apparently – I wasn’t in that meeting obviously – but apparently the Lakers sort of sold flash and tradition to LaMarcus Aldridge. Having spoken to him on a handful of occasions (and) interviewed him, that’s not the kind of thing that I think was going to work for him. He is looking for an opportunity to win now.

“Obviously San Antonio presents the best situation for that,” Skolnick continued. “They did trade (Tiago) Splitter to keep Danny Green and create space for Aldridge. They could put a team on the floor next year that would be right there with Golden State and with a recovered – in terms of health – Oklahoma City as three unbelievable powers at the top of the Western Conference. Then you got to deal with Memphis and Houston and the Clippers, but those three in particular would be really, really incredible. So I think San Antonio is still the favorite.”

Phoenix is also expected to make a push for Aldridge but is unlikely to get him.

“I don’t know why he would choose the Suns necessarily over the Spurs,” Skolnick said, “but here’s the other thing: If the Spurs get caught here, if they traded Splitter and don’t end up getting Aldridge, it wouldn’t be the first team for that to happened to. Houston last year dumped Omer Asik, dumped Jeremy Lin because they thought they were getting Chris Bosh or a player like that, and Bosh ended up staying in Miami. So teams have been fooled like this before. I’m just not used to seeing San Antonio get fooled, so I think ultimately they get a deal done.”

Speaking of Miami, Skolnick expects Dwyane Wade to return to the Heat.

“Look, this was a toxic situation for a while,” Skolnick said. “Dwyane was very frustrated about the way this was handled. At the very beginning, he believed he was going to get a max deal for next year. That wasn’t the Heat’s intention. They wanted him to opt in and go from there to $16 million. He decided to opt out. But I have heard over the past few days that some things have been cleared up, that Dwyane met with Micky Arison before Micky left for Italy, that there was a little bit more of an understanding now.

“I do think ultimately that something gets done between them,” Skonick continued. “I think there’s too much value of each to the other. The Heat need Dwyane. They’ve built their whole brand on Heat lifers, on family. You can’t let that guy go. And frankly, Dwyane needs the Heat too. He needs them because there’s not a great market for him out there. The Heat are going to appreciate him more than anybody else, and look, playing your whole career with one franchise, there is cache in that. I think ultimately they will come to a deal. I think it’s probably going to be later this week.”


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