Injuries have left the Portland Trail Blazers ill-equipped to live up to the their stellar early season performance in the playoffs. For sake of the team’s big picture plans, it no doubt hopes LaMarcus Aldridge understands the necessary context behind its inevitable early exit from the postseason. Unfortunately, even an acknowledgement of that reality might not keep the prospective free agent in the Rose City long-term.
According to Jason Quick of The Oregonian, multiple Blazers are concerned that Aldridge will leave their team on the open market this summer – and one thinks a new contract with Portland isn’t even the most likely outcome of his free agency.
Some Blazers players have already said they are worried free agency will take Aldridge away from Portland this summer. Earlier this month, before a home game, a Blazers player estimated the chances of him returning to Portland at 50-50.
Any discussion of Aldridge’s future should begin with an explanation of his decision to not re-up with the Blazers last summer. Terms of the collective bargaining agreement make extensions for max-level players less lucrative than would a new contract as an outright free agent, terms to which the four-time All-Star alluded at the time while reiterating his commitment to Portland.
Via The Oregonian’s Joe Freeman:
“I don’t want it to be perceived that I’m not happy or I’m not staying on because I’m not signing a three-year deal,” Aldridge said. “It’s just financially smarter to wait … and I’m looking forward to signing the five-year deal when the chance comes.”
But that was almost 10 months ago. Have developments in the interim altered Aldridge’s plans? He almost certainly won’t say for sure until the time to sign a deal comes, and the up-and-down nature of the Blazers’ season makes it tough to tell either way.
Aldridge going back on his word and spurning Portland would have been inconceivable before the new year. Terry Stotts’ club entered January with the most wins in basketball, spurred by improved play from Damian Lillard and major strides on the defensive end. But that progress quickly dissipated thereafter and was gone entirely when Wes Matthews was lost for the season with a ruptured achilles early last month.
The New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers will surely court Aldridge with a four-year maximum contract and glitz of the league’s biggest media markets, and other clubs will sell him on future promise that the Blazers might lack. Just how much better can this team get? And what happens if Matthews, Robin Lopez, and the recently acquired Arron Afflalo walk in free agency?
Those are questions that are difficult to answer. An Alridge-Lillard led Portland squad will likely always be on the championship periphery as opposed to the forefront, but all it takes is an injury or two and matchup circumstance for that to change. Crazier things have happened than the Blazers’ current core winning a title, basically, and the team will have ample cap space – along with rest of the league, however – to add meaningful pieces in the summers of 2016 and 2017.
Sometimes a change of scenery is attractive to players beginning the downside of their careers, though, and the 29 year-old Aldridge could join that group if he’s at all dispirited with Portland’s direction. Not much has changed between now and last July when he affirmed loyalty to the Blazers, but that’s mostly irrelevant to the reality nearly at hand.
Aldridge is about to become a free agent after another painful postseason loss, and other pastures might seem greener despite less financial gain. Considering that his teammates are reportedly coming to grips with that possibility, it would be prudent for the league at large to do the same.