If LaMarcus Aldridge leaves, Blazers must emulate Warriors


First off, it could go without saying that my preference is for LaMarcus Aldridge to re-sign with the Portland Trail Blazers in free agency. For good measure, I will say it anyway. I hope he stays.

But… At this point, we have to consider the possibility of Aldridge leaving, right? I mean, if he wasn’t open to hearing offers, like Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James did last summer, their wouldn’t be this growing sense of “get-ability” around the league. Neil Olshey and company are going to pay him every dollar of the five-year, $108 million max contract he can sign now, or whatever type of deal Aldridge so desires. The Trail Blazers should pay Aldridge to keep him happy and keep this team that is one of the best in the league when healthy.

However, if Aldridge leaves, Portland has to move on free agents, and they have to move fast. More importantly, they need to follow in the footsteps of the team that won 60-plus games and will be representing the Western Conference in the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors.

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Golden State is interesting because they’ve done well in the lottery and draft, but for the most part, they’ve made good transactions to bring depth and get athletic guys with “high basketball IQ.”

Here are my three keys to Portland’s summer, if Aldridge leaves, to ensure that the Trail Blazers continue to improve their team and don’t waste next season:

1. Bring back Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez 

Golden State seems to have some of the best chemistry and trust between players in the league. When it’s going well, it’s easy for that to happen, but that group and the core of the team is battle-tested together. They’ve lost two brutal playoff series to the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers in the last two years, and they’ve kept on fighting and getting better.

Portland has that kind of positive chemistry and unselfishness that it takes to be successful, at least it appears that way on the outside. Letting Matthews and Lopez walk could muck everything up inside the locker room, and that’s far too risky.

2. Play through the guards

It’s no coincidence the Warriors dominated the league when Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson had the best years of their careers.

Am I being a little bit of a homer and overly optimistic that Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum can possibly reach Curry and Thompson’s level? Absolutely! However, I think Lillard could have MVP-caliber game with the right support system and freedom.

As for McCollum, I don’t know what his ceiling is, but I like what I saw from him in the playoffs, and that seems like a good launching point for his career.

If Matthews is able to contribute at pre-injury levels, or close to them, the Trail Blazers’ backcourt could be scary good for years to come.

3. Get deep and get athletic

The Warriors are the best team in the league because there is no style of play they can’t match up with. That is not to say that they have so many different combinations to stop every team in the league on every single night. They just have the perfect style of play and combination of players to exploit opponent weaknesses.

If teams want to run, like the Rockets, Golden State is more than happy to put Draymond Green at the 5, and run them out of the gym. If teams want to go big, like the Grizzlies, they can throw their big guys out there to match up, or they can go ultra-small and still run them out of the gym.

That’s the problem they pose for other teams, and with Portland’s unique personnel, like Meyers “Stetch-Five” Leonard, the Trail Blazers can take steps to be more like the Warriors with a few choice free agent acquisitions.

Bonus Key: Strike gold in the draft 

Portland has to hit on their draft picks and find a player who is ready to contribute right now. A tall order with the 23rd pick.

Head Coach Terry Stotts has a reputation for neglecting project players, so Portland needs to find someone in the draft who is ready to play right now, like Green was when he entered the league (selected 35th in 2012).

That may sound silly because Green is such a difference-maker and will be getting a huge contract this summer, but the proof is in the pudding with these exceptional young guys– even beyond the Warriors.

The Spurs don’t win a title in 2014 without moving up to get an NBA-ready Kawhi Leonard (selected 15th in 2011) and giving up George Hill. The Chicago Bulls aren’t half as successful as they were the last two seasons without Jimmy Butler (selected 30th in 2011) coming up big for them.

In turn, the Warriors don’t make the NBA Finals this year without Green playing huge minutes and making an even bigger impact.

The path is clear for Portland if they lose Aldridge. To make it back to the playoffs and improve upon where they stand now, they must reinvest in the core, target depth in free agency, and draft wisely; much like Golden State did to build their potentially championship caliber roster.

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Next: Matthews to seek out best situation in free agency