According to a source, the Cleveland Cavaliers are preparing to pursue LaMarcus Aldridge, via trade, this summer. My knee-jerk reaction is to scoff, but let’s flesh this out a bit for the sake of posterity. The details are sketchy at this point, but it would appear that the deal centers around Tristan Thompson (PF) and Dion Waiters (SG). Waiters was selected 4th overall by the Cavs in the 2012 NBA draft and finished his rookie season as Cleveland’s 3rd leading scorer, behind Tristan Thompson and Kyrie Irving. It’s not like these guys are scrubs, they’re just very young with a lot of room to grow (and a high ceiling).
There would likely be more pieces in play, including draft picks and/or bench players from either side, but let’s explore this trade in a vacuum. If it went through as LaMarcus Aldridge for Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson straight up, would it be good for the Blazers? I really like Tristan Thompson. In the absence of Anderson Varejao* (blood clot) Thompson played center for the Cavs the way Hickson played center for the Blazers. A 6’9” forward that reels in boards is always an asset, but I’m not eager to play another pseudo-center in 2013-14. Thompson would probably assume his natural role and we would pursue a traditional center to pair him with in free agency.
Then there’s Waiters. He has the ability to score in bursts, but he’s far from an efficient player. This tends to change with time after one’s rookie season, so his abysmal shooting percentage could be a temporary stumbling block. Waiters has potential to be a leading scorer as he matures, but what would we do with our current guards? Wesley Matthews’ starting role is far from endangered and we’re already deep at that position with Will Barton, Elliot Williams, and Sasha Pavlovic. Even if we found ourselves without Williams and Pavlovic next year, Waiters doesn’t belong in a stifling rotation. So do we push him to point? I suppose he could take Maynor’s role when/if Maynor leaves in free agency.
That’s actually not a terrible idea. Lillard and Waiters should grow into one hell of a one-two punch! Dion could man the point when Lillard needs a rest and swing to shooting guard as an additional scoring threat when Matthews needs a break. I envision something like the Wall/Beal combo that Washington has, when Waiters and Lillard share the floor.
My biggest concern with this possible trade is leadership. Portland is a very young team, and getting younger might not be their best strategy for improvement. An incoming rookie and sophomore can hardly replace the experience and savvy of a 2x All-star, 7 seasons deep. The Rose City rallied behind the veteran play of LaMarcus Aldridge after Brandon Roy’s untimely departure 2 years ago, and we’ve supported him ever since. He is the face of the Blazers off the court, and the heart of the Blazers on it. The L-Train is our most dependable scorer and his consistently powerful contributions on both ends of the floor have been the foundation of Portland’s most recent rebuilding effort.
But here’s what makes this idea so tantalizing – LaMarcus is owed roughly $30 million over the next two seasons. Dion and Tristan are owed about $4 million each next season, with team options in 2014-2015. Talk about cost effective! The Blazers could use that extra cap space to pursue an upgrade at center in free agency, like Nikola Pekovic or Al Jefferson. If either of those acquisitions became a reality, this would be a great move for the Blazers. Although I think free agents would be less likely to come to Portland if Aldridge resides elsewhere. Of course, this is just a myriad of hypotheticals swirling in a vacuum, but it doesn’t hurt to look ahead.
As I write this, I find myself battling sentimentality, not exclusive to this situation. Any possible trade is still a relatively long way off, but I don’t like to think about tearing apart the core of our team in order to grow. LaMarcus is our biggest asset and will assuredly be sought after by other teams, so prepare for more rumblings of change to surface. That’s not to say we should ship him off at all. We’re not being forced into any agreements and we’ll only move if the deal is right. If our worst case scenario is keeping one of the best, and most beloved, big men in the league, that’s a problem I can live with.