Here’s an interesting door to open. Per Fox Sports Ohio’s Sam Amico, the Cleveland Cavaliers have made “a couple of inquiries” about the availability of LaMarcus Aldridge recently. While the Portland Trail Blazers have turned the Cavs away and “[plan] to keep Aldridge”, would trading Aldridge lead to any benefits?
Aldridge has been a Blazer his whole career, and has been the Blazers’ unquestioned leader since Brandon Roy’s own career was thrown into jeopardy and eventually fell apart. Even with Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard in the fold, Aldridge was the one who led the team in scoring and he is the one that the rest of the team follows. To trade him now would be to blow up that established hierarchy, and if that weren’t enough already, the All-Star talent that Aldridge offers would be gone as well.
With that said, let’s take a look at the ‘what if’ scenario of trading Aldridge. Cleveland has made multiple offers, presumably all built around some combination of “Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters or draft picks”. It’s unknown if “draft picks” includes Cleveland’s first overall pick this year (they also have the 19th, 31st and 33rd picks). However, it is worth mentioning that this year’s draft and the consensus first overall pick (Nerlens Noel) aren’t regarded that highly at all.
If Portland was ever going to trade Aldridge, they’d be sure to get the best return possible for him, as they should. If a trade with Cleveland was ever going to happen, Portland would undoubtedly insist on getting that pick (with other assets included as well) in exchange for their star big man. The reputation of this year’s draft gives Portland more leeway in trade negotiations. If the first overall were available, then that’s when trading Aldridge becomes an idea for management to consider.
As good as Aldridge is, he’s 28 next month. Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum are 22 and 24 respectively, and their best years lie ahead of them. Aldridge will be on the wrong side of 30 when they hit their prime. Could the Blazers conceivably be a contender with an aging Aldridge? I’m hesitant to say yes, and it would require a lot more depth than what they have now. It’s hard to imagine them rising to that level.
By flipping Aldridge for young assets such as center Nerlens Noel via the first overall pick and one of Tristan Thompson/Dion Waiters, the Trail Blazers could add a bunch of good young players that can all reach their prime at once. Flipping Aldridge for two players also helps with the problem of depth, and from what we have seen so far, Lillard seems like a mature enough figure to replace Aldridge as a leader. Throw in some veteran leadership, some complimentary role players (and while very raw, Meyers Leonard is still a very nice asset to have alongside the other young players), and there you have a foundation that could be better to work with.
Portland doesn’t even have to trade with Cleveland. With LaMarcus Aldridge as a trade asset, there could be significant trade interest out there, which is why Portland would be wise to at least examine their options. Any number of teams could be interested in trading significant young assets for an All-Star like Aldridge.
The idea is that it all comes together at the same time to create a very good basketball team: the prospects they are able to get back for Aldridge, Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, Meyers Leonard, the 10th pick from this year, and any other assets they are able to secure. A starting lineup of Lillard-Matthews-Batum-Thompson-Noel with Leonard and C.J. McCollum sounds like a good bet in a few years, if that’s how it pans out. However, the only problem with placing hope in prospects is the risk and the time involved. If pulled off correctly, we’re the Oklahoma City Thunder. If not, then what’s left over are a bunch of dead-weight prospects that never will be anything more.
The current roster is a bubble playoff team, and it will only be getting better this offseason as concerns like bench depth and interior defense will be addressed through free agency, trades and the draft. To dump Aldridge now would be betting a chance at the playoffs next season for a worse chance at significantly more a few seasons down the line. Essentially, it’s good-but-not-great being faced with the high-risk/high-reward question of whether or not to double down.
While Portland may not even want to consider this particular path, the question will lurk behind a locked door. Trading LaMarcus Aldridge could be the key to greater heights, and while he is the face of the franchise, the right sacrifices can lead to success. Oklahoma City traded James Harden- Does Portland choose to roll the dice?