In an interview with The Oregonian’s John Canzano, Yahoo NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski said that he does not expect LaMarcus Aldridge to end up on a new team any time soon. The full segment can be listened to here (approximately the 20:05 mark), but the most relevant sound byte is that he thinks Aldridge “is going to be in Portland for the foreseeable future.”
While pleased with this news (Woj is usually very reliable), I can’t say it comes as any surprise. It seemed to me like many of the rumors and allegations about Aldridge that flooded the news during the off-season were media driven, with little of substance coming from Aldridge himself. It personally reached the level of annoyance for me, as I would much rather wait for hard facts to comment on rather than baseless speculation (BlazersEdge has a nice recap of the drama here).
With that being said, assuming Woj is right, what does that mean for the Blazers? First and foremost, it means talent. Aldridge is talented. There is no denying that. I don’t think anyone would mistake him for a truly elite player, but he is now a two-time All-Star who certainly has a knack for the game. As I have said time and time again, talent is extremely scarce in the league, especially nowadays with 30 teams. All-Star caliber, or even just plain ‘good’ players don’t just fall into every teams’ laps.
This issue is especially compounded in Portland, which has historically not been a very sought-after free agent destination. Considering all of this, I think, then, that it is wise for Portland to hold onto the talent it already possesses, which in this case is Aldridge. He has a full two years remaining on his contract, so as Woj also pointed out (and I agree with), there is absolutely no reason for Portland to even look to move him. The main potential reason would be an extremely disgruntled Aldridge, but he has not given off those signs in any way, shape or form. The argument could also be made that now would be the time to “sell high” on him, but I think present talent needs trump such future considerations.
The next massive benefit of keeping Aldridge for the foreseeable future is the consistency that it affords the team. Aldridge was obviously a huge part of the team last year (both statistically and intangibly), so if he were to get flipped soon, it would require a huge period of adjustment for the rest of the team. This would be particularly adverse for Damian Lillard, who is likely the second best player on the squad. Without Aldridge, Lillard would have to shoulder even more of the team’s load in only his second year, a scenario that I don’t think anyone would be thrilled about.
Aldridge is not without his flaws (I still wish he would take it inside more instead of settling for jumpers), but he is without a doubt one of the better power forwards in the league. If he actually does stay for the full two remaining years on his contract like Woj predicts, this is only good for the Blazers.
What I think is actually more deserving of discussion, though, is what will happen with Aldridge in two years, after his contract is really up. He would at this time be a free agent, and you can bet other teams would love to acquire his services. Neither I (nor in reality anyone else) know exactly what is going on in Aldridge’s head, but my prediction is that the Blazers are working with a two-year timeline.
If the team crashes and burns both this year and the next, I think Aldridge would leave for greener pastures (and I wouldn’t blame him one bit). Players like to win, and if that doesn’t happen in Portland, I think he would likely try to find somewhere with that winning recipe. The scenario becomes more muddled, however, if the Blazers actually do display some success during the next two years. Would a middling to deep playoff run be enough to make him want to stay in Portland? First round exits in both years? A twist of fate magical romp to the Conference Finals? Anything short of a championship?
Again, these are questions that Aldridge, and only Aldridge can answer. Anyone who pretends otherwise is just making things up. And to be honest, Aldridge might not even know himself.
My prediction? If the Blazers can string together at least one deep playoff run during the next two years, I think there is a decent chance of Aldridge staying. If there is no rapid progress made these next two years, though, I think Aldridge will leave for a different team.