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Clippers Free Agent Retrospective: Stone Cole Aldrich

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It’s time to look back at one of the Clippers’ best bench players.

2016 Starkey Hearing Foundation So The World May Hear Awards Gala Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images for Starkey Hearing Foundation

In the series “Clippers Free Agent Retrospective”, we’re looking back at the mark left by players who departed Los Angeles in free agency this summer. We tackled Jeff Green on Thursday, and Pablo Prigioni over the weekend. Next up: Cole Aldrich.

Name: Cole Aldrich

Key Clippers Facts:

27-Year-old center with 6 seasons of NBA experience.

Signed a two-year, minimum-salaried contract with a second-year player option with the Clippers last July. Declined his player option for 2016-17 before free agency opened.

Played 60 games with the Clippers, starting 5. Averaged 13.3 minutes, 5.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 0.8 assists, and 0.8 steals per game while shooting 59.6% from the field.

Played in all six Clippers playoff games, averaging 3.8 points and 5.0 rebounds in 12.8 minutes per game.

Expectations:

Cole wasn’t thoroughly well-received when the Clippers originally signed him last summer. While many fans were excited by Aldrich’s per-minute stats in a small role with the New York Knicks, not all were optimistic about his fit, especially defensively where he’d have to fit into a mobile defensive scheme that gave Spencer Hawes trouble the year before. After only having a rotation role once in his career, it wasn’t clear if Cole would be on the floor for the Clippers frequently. At worst, he was seen as a reliable big body, a tree trunk down low who’d finish, rebound, and play hard.

Performance:

I think it’s safe to say that Cole Aldrich outperformed even the most wild expectations for him. His per-36 numbers of 14.8 points, 13.0 rebounds, 3.1 blocks, 2.3 assists, and 2.1 steals are jaw-dropping for a minimum-salaried player, and his on-court impact didn’t pale in comparison. From being a reliable pick-and-roll finisher, shot blocker, and rebounder down low to his more surprising contributions finding open shooters and defending pick-and-rolls, Aldrich’s game surprised us all season long.

From his missing tooth to his close friendship with 39-year-old Argentinian point guard Pablo Prigioni, Aldrich’s goofball demeanor was sure to make him a fan favorite off the court. The surprising on-court excellence only added to that, especially as he replaced Josh Smith (who had been abysmal) and lifted the second unit into respectability. In two starts in January in place of the sick DeAndre Jordan, Aldrich posted 19 points in each night, with 7 rebounds in his first start (a big win over Miami) and 10 rebounds in his second (a loss to Sacramento).

In his best game of the season, Cole was part of the Clippers’ make-shift starting lineup as their stars rested against Utah late in the season. The Jazz, playing at home, were fighting for their playoff lives—and the Clippers’ backups shut the door, including a 21-point, 18-rebound, 5-steal performance from Aldrich. He also played 40 minutes, a career high. Oh, and did I mention the game-saving block with under 30 seconds left, and the game-tying basket to force overtime with 2.4 seconds to play?

Leaving Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert helpless defensively? That’s the Stone Cole way.

Legacy as a Clipper:

I wrote that we would always hold on to our fond memories of Pablo Prigioni, and I think that’s true. But Cole Aldrich? The scope of his on-court impact and off-court popularity far exceeds Pablo’s. He eclipsed “popular” and became, I think it’s safe to say, a legend in the hearts of Clippers fans, even though one season as a back-up doesn’t qualify him for legitimate status as one of the Clippers’ all-time greats.

So how do we define Cole’s legacy as a Clipper? I’ll draw a comparison—I think he’ll live on in our hearts as a Steve Novak-like figure with cult-level popularity.

We’ve been good this year—let’s enjoy a Novakaine throwback:

And, hell, we’ll watch another one of Cole Aldrich’s finest moments in a Clippers jersey:

Farewell, Cole, and best of luck. I hope you find your way back to the Clippers someday.