After LaMarcus Aldridge recently told the media he’d be open to a return to the Portland Trail Blazers, we dove into finding a way to make that happen.
Regardless of whether you’ve forgiven LaMarcus Aldridge or not, there’s no denying that he left the Portland Trail Blazers in an unprofessional way. Bridges were burned, ties were severed, and fans wanted nothing to do with the former all-star forward who left their beloved franchise to compete for a championship in his home state. He’d said that he wanted to retire as the best Blazer to ever play, and then gave up on his team.
But people make mistakes all the time. And just as often, they learn from them. Aldridge wanted a change, and there was no easy way for him to handle it. Do you think Cleveland Cavaliers fans are happy that the team welcomed LeBron James back after he left them for Miami?
At 34-years-old, Aldridge is still an all-star caliber player who is hungry to win a championship before he retires. He has put his heart and soul into producing for the San Anonio Spurs over the last few years, even after Kawhi Leonard bailed on him.
He may have been jealous of the way that Damian Lillard stole his spotlight in his last years in Portland, but he is more than willing to accept a ride in the passengers seat now, and the Blazers have no choice but to pounce on the opportunity.
This season, Aldridge averaged 18.9 PPG, 7.4 REB, and 2.4 AST while shooting 49.3% from the field and 38.9% from three, all in just 33.1 MPG. In his best statistical season in Portland, which was 2014-2015, Aldridge averaged 23.4 PPG, 10.2 REB, and 2.0 AST while shooting 46.6% from the field and 35.2% from three.
Sure his numbers aren’t quite as good now as they were that season, but he’s getting them in fewer minutes, and wouldn’t be asked to carry nearly the same type of load on this current roster as he did then.
So how exactly can the Blazers best go about acquiring Aldridge? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t quite so simple.
Making a Deal
If the Blazers had assets whose salaries were a little bigger, the deal would be quite simple. Although many Spurs fans claim that their new general manager Brian Wright would not make any deal that didn’t include Jusuf Nurkic going the other way, they would quickly realize how little leverage the Spurs had if Aldridge were to request a trade at 35 years old in his contract year.
Moreover, Greg Popovich and the Spurs organization has historically been pretty respectful of players’ trade demands, and would likely do their best to meet Aldridge’s request given the effort he has put in for their franchise over the last five years.
Since the current season’s trade deadline has already passed, the Blazers would have to wait until at least next season to look at making trades for Aldridge. With the current state of COVID-19 and the uncertainty of the NBA’s schedule going forward, things become even more complicated. Aldridge is set to make $24,000,000 next season, meaning that the Blazers would have to trade away assets whose contracts combined to approach that $24,000,000 value. If you look at their assets, there isn’t really a combination of guys that can make that deal work without including Jusuf Nurkic in the deal, and we all know that the Blazers wouldn’t do that.
Perhaps the Spurs would be interested in guys like Zach Collins, Anfernee Simons, Gary Trent Jr., and Nassir Little. Unfortunately, none of those guys make near enough money to match Aldridge’s salary. Even if Neil Olshey offered all four of them for Aldridge (which he would never do), their combined salaries wouldn’t be enough to reach a deal. In fact, they’d only combine to about $10,000,000, which isn’t even close to enough.
The only way that Neil Olshey and the Blazers’ front office could start to form a plausible deal would be to include both Trevor Ariza and Hassan Whiteside in the trade along with some attractive assets. However, that would require the Blazers to both fully guarantee Ariza’s deal next year and re-sign Hassan Whiteside to a deal in the $8,000,000-$14,000,000 range. And if we’re being realistic, there’s no way that Gregg Popovich would ever want to coach Whiteside, meaning that a third team would have to get involved. Things are starting to get too complicated.
Unfortunately, the easiest way for the Portland Trail Blazers to bring back Alrdridge is simply to wait until he is an unrestricted free agent in 2021. While they could attempt to get a complicated three team deal done in the 2020-2021 season, it probably isn’t worth giving up valuable assets and young talent to get him a year earlier.
Instead, the Blazers should simply wait until the 2021-2022 season to sign him in free agency. If Aldridge truly does want to retire in Portland, he will choose to make his move then, and will likely do it on a team friendly deal. Although he will be going on 36 years old that season, his game seems to be aging well, and he wouldn’t be asked to take on too large of a role, as Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic will hopefully develop into a fine front-court pairing by that time.
While I do think that Aldridge will eventually find himself in a Blazers uniform again, I do not think it will be next year. But it may be just in time to help Damian Lillard finally bring a long-awaited championship back to Rip City. And that is all that really matters.