As we approach the beginning of the regular season, the deadline to sign players from the 2007 draft class to contract extensions is also on the horizon. The Bulls signed center Joakim Noah to a five-year, $60 million deal over the weekend, and Atlanta has reportedly opened talks with Al Horford. Last summer, the Blazers went through the process with their two franchise cornerstones, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. While there were few who doubted that Roy was worth the max deal he signed, Aldridge’s contract was a little trickier.
Even though he’s been a fan favorite since being drafted in 2006, Aldridge’s development has long been a polarizing issue as in relation to the team’s all-around growth. At this point, he’s more or less established himself as a reliable 17-and-8 production guy at power forward, and some fans are perfectly happy with that. But with every year that goes by, the line of thinking that says Aldridge needs to take that extra step toward becoming an elite big man in order for the Blazers to vault into the “can they beat the Lakers?” discussion. Unless you’re the Miami Heat, the five-year/$65 million contract that Aldridge signed is money reserved for the clear second option, and as of yet it’s unclear whether Aldridge can be the second guy on a championship contender. You could certainly do a lot worse than Aldridge as your starting power forward, however, especially since he’s only 25 and just now entering his prime.
With all of that said, it’s hard to judge the worth of his contract extension on merit alone. In this day and age, you have to take the market into consideration, and here, Portland comes out quite favorably. I don’t need to run down here the absurd contracts that were signed this summer, but suffice to say that had he not signed an extension last year and been allowed to go into restricted free agency in July, somebody would have almost certainly offered him a max contract, and then Portland would have had a real decision to make. They would have probably ended up matching—after all, they’ve been marketing this guy as part of their supposed “big three” for three seasons now—but it would have been hard to justify giving Aldridge the same amount of money as the team’s clear franchise player.
Those who think the Blazers overpaid slightly for LaMarcus usually blame Toronto for giving Andrea Bargnani, the No. 1 overall pick from Roy’s and Aldridge’s draft class, a five-year, $50 million contract. This tied the Blazers’ hands because that’s about what most people thought Aldridge should have been worth, except he had clearly had a better career to that point than Bargnani (and still does, for that matter). On the other side of the spectrum, Memphis gave Rudy Gay a max deal—Brandon Roy/Kevin Durant money—that makes $65 million for Aldridge seem entirely reasonable.
If Aldridge flatlines for the rest of his contract, he’ll be decidedly overpaid, but not Gay/Joe Johnson/Elton Brand-level overpaid. But the balance between his ability and salary isn’t so out of whack that it’s impossible to imagine him earning his contract, unlike someone like someone like Hedo Turkoglu, who is to this day the biggest bullet the Blazers have dodged this decade. At the end of the day, it’s a bit silly to quibble over exactly how many millions these guys are making when most of us are never going to see that kind of money in our lives, but semantics aside, I’m okay with Aldridge’s contract. Overpaying guys is a part of this business, and for all the imperfections of LaMarcus’ game (his defense needs work, especially in the post), he’s still one of the top power forwards in the Western Conference. And besides, the Blazers’ ascent into elite status rests more on Greg Oden’s knees than it does on Aldridge’s development into something more than a 17-and-8 player. If that particular snag is overcome, paying LaMarcus $13 million a year is completely workable.