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LaMarcus Aldridge ‘ramp-up’ to take a few games but he’s joining a crowded field

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LaMarcus Aldridge is signed, sealed and delivered. He put pen to paper on Sunday, receiving the vets minimum ... and No. 21 ... in return. He’ll be the 26th player to wear the Brooklyn black-and-white this season, a record.

Bobby Marks has the details on his contract ... and what the Nets can pay him next season, if everything works out for both sides.

Word out of San Antonio is that Aldridge gave up $7.25 million out of his $24 million contract to secure his NBA freedom ... and sign with Brooklyn.

Now, the question is when will be don his new duds on the court. It won’t be tonight vs. Minny, the Nets say. Steve Nash said Monday pre game it could be two to four games. Indeed, Aldridge, 35, hasn’t played since the All-Star Break, his last game ironically came against the Nets on March 1 when he scored two points in 15 minutes.

Of course, the other question is how he will integrate into a crowded front court which when healthy will include him, Griffin, Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan, Jeff Green, Nic Claxton and the rookie Reggie Perry. We’re not even counting Bruce Brown, small ball center par excellence, or new favorite, Alize Johnson of fleeting 23-and-15 fame.

Alex Schiffer and John Hollinger of The Athletic in separate stories laid out what they think could happen which includes putting KD at the 3 and Griffin at the 4. As Schiffer writes, it’s not a bad problem to have but time’s a-wastin’. Schiffer ranks each of the seven.

With only 26 games remaining until the playoffs begin, seven players will now vie to fill what might be four spots in the postseason. Nash was unable to comment on Aldridge after Sunday’s practice because Aldridge had yet to officially sign, but he remained non-committal about what another addition means for Brooklyn’s rotations.

“It’s something that we’ll figure out as we go,” said Nash. “First of all, something comes up every week this season. Your options always seem to be outstanding and then very quickly they’re limited. We’ll adjust and adapt as we go and do the best we can to put the team in the best position to win and to grow. What does that mean? I don’t know. But it’ll declare itself as we proceed and as we deal with all the different things that will be thrown at us the rest of the way.”

The big issue among the bigs is where to put Claxton. He’s not starting (yet), but he’s become the Nets’ finisher and in recent games has rewarded the coaching staff —and his teammates’— confidence by making clutch plays at games’ end. As Hollinger writes in his summary, what normally happens at this time of year is that the buyouts, with all their All-Star credentials force younger players to the bench.

If there are no better alternatives available, then it’s not a big deal.

If Nic Claxton is the alternative, on the other hand, then it might be. The idea of the Nets starting Aldridge at center and playing him heavy minutes — while Claxton rots on the pine behind him, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — has to be a tough one to swallow for Brooklyn fans who have watched the second-year center emerge recently...

He’s been so good, in fact, that his game is stealing attention from whatever is going on with that hair (I’m clearly the wrong person to ask).

Hollinger points, in particular, to defense and the disparity between Claxton and Aldridge in switching. Claxton is great at it; Aldridge not so much. But the former Grizzlies exec notes that Aldridge can still bring it on offense.

He also details what could happen with the rest of the rotation and wonders if giving him a lot of minutes makes sense at this point.

Aldridge’s presence also could have knock-on effects through the rest of the rotation. If the Nets really want to play Griffin and Aldridge and Jordan, they’ll probably end up playing Kevin Durant a lot of minutes at the 3 and pushing Bruce Brown out of the mix, even though Brooklyn has looked its best this year playing small and fast and Durant is more effective as a 4. Similarly, lineups with Jeff Green as a small-ball 5 now seem like history; he might get more run at 3 than 5 the rest of the way.

Similarly, Schiffer points out how Aldridge’s bread-and-butter play —the mid-range shot— could help the Nets offense which doesn’t seem to need much.

The plan is to use Aldridge as a center, and the domino effect there will be interesting. Does Nash pair Aldridge alongside Claxton given the 21-year-old’s success playing alongside veterans? Griffin has already improved his 3-point shooting since coming to Brooklyn, while Aldridge’s 36 percent rate from 3 is five points higher than Griffin’s. If Aldridge’s 3-ball improves even further, does that change how Nash uses him?

For his part, Claxton is playing the good soldier, telling reporters Sunday, “The more the merrier. The more players we get, the deeper we are, the better we are.”

He also said he liked the signing —as well as Griffin’s— because it will give him the opportunity to learn from two bigs with 13 All-Star selections and 10 All-NBA berths. Good for him. Of course, the second year player isn’t playing for a new contract. In fact, he’s the only one, other than KD and DJ, who won’t be playing for a new contract the rest of the way. That doesn’t include Brown who did an admirable job as small ball 5 earlier this season.

And where does this leave DeAndre Jordan, who has three of those All-NBA selections and was an All-Star once? Does Aldridge’s arrival “take a bite out of his minutes?” He’s currently averaging 22 a game but his 21-year-old protege is catching up.

The two also discuss whether the Nets acquisition of Griffin and Aldridge, over a defensive wing for example, is about defending Joel Embiid, and advantage the better built and craftier vets have over the more slightly built and inexperienced Claxton.

Talent, as Claxton noted, is a luxury and no one should dismiss it even if Aldridge and Griffin may have seen better days. It’s going to be all about minutes, Hollinger assesses and that could be an issue.

Nonetheless, there are some real risks here if the Nets can’t manage minutes expectations appropriately. The Aldridge-Griffin-Jordan triumvirate looks to be of limited utility against opponents like the Bucks, Clippers, or Jazz, for instance. If they aren’t willing to pull those guys and roll with Claxton – or just play small – then Aldridge represents subtraction by addition.

But as Schiffer notes...

Shortly after the Nets traded a large portion of their rotation for James Harden in January, head coach Steve Nash said his team was trying to “rediscover” its depth. Two and a half months later, he has the opposite problem up front.

Again, not a bad problem to have.