When LaMarcus Aldridge’s Portland Trailblazers were defeated in a gentlemen’s sweep by the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the 2015 NBA playoffs, the big man had some interesting words about his looming free agency. Reflecting on his tenure in Portland the day after the series against the Grizzlies ended, the big man said some interesting words about his looming free agency.
“Of course I love being here, and I’m thankful for everything this city has given me, thankful for my time here.” Aldridge told reporters, according to The Oregonian. “It’s been an amazing nine years, and of course I’m not trying to make that end.”
It’s hard to believe Aldridge would be so pensive and seemingly reminiscent of his time in Portland if he were not seriously considering leaving the city he has called home for so long. That one quote is not the only evidence that might lead one to believe Aldridge is looking for greener pastures.
Some of Aldridge’s Portland teammates are concerned about him leaving, and ESPN’s Marc Stein reports that both San Antonio and Dallas think they have a realistic shot to land the all-star power forward. Aldridge will have no shortage of options to pursue in free agency, but he would be foolish to think he could find a better situation outside of Portland.
If Aldridge leaves Portland, it will likely be for reasons other than money. But it should be said that Portland can offer him more money and years than any other team can because of the way the current CBA is constructed.
Aside from money, it could be argued (rightly) that no team will be able to offer a better chance at a title in the near future while Aldridge is still close to his prime than Portland. If the Blazers weren’t riddled with injuries this season, including Aldridge’s significant thumb injury, they would have been in the running for the two seed in the Western Conference, and they would have likely fared much better in the playoffs. They were a dark horse title contender before Wesley Matthews’ season abruptly ended in March due to a torn Achilles tendon in his left foot. If the Blazers stayed healthy, the team’s future would be viewed in a much more positive light.
Recent playoff performances by the Blazers won’t help convince Aldridge that his best chance to win the whole shebang will come by staying put, but he should know that those early exits aren’t necessarily indicative of how the Blazers will fare in the playoffs going forward. The aforementioned injuries prevented the playoffs this season from being a true litmus test depicting where the Blazers actually stand among the NBA’s elite teams, and it often takes more than two seasons for a core group to fully gel and be ready to make the deep run they so desire.
According to the same report by ESPN’s Marc Stein cited earlier, there are rumblings that Aldridge feels under-appreciated in Portland because of the attention Damian Lillard is garnering on all fronts. If that’s true and he wants to be ‘the man’ of a team, none of the teams rumored to be pursuing him would necessarily be able to offer that.
He might be the man in Dallas if Dirk Nowitzki retires, but that seems somewhat unlikely. In San Antonio, Kawhi Leonard will still be around to take away Aldridge’s attention (at least on the court) even if Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili call it a career and Tony Parker takes his talents elsewhere. If the Cleveland Cavaliers and Kevin Love part ways thus creating room for Aldridge, he would be even lower on the food chain there with two stars bigger than him in LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. He would have to prioritize a chance at a championship above all to go to Cleveland. Even if Aldridge flees to either the New York Knicks or Los Angeles Lakers, who desperately need another great player, he will likely play second fiddle in either of those places as well while not having a tremendous chance at a championship over the next couple seasons.
Every move away from Portland has holes in the logic that can be picked apart if it’s actually more recognition Aldridge is seeking, and that’s without stopping to consider that Aldridge should think twice before taking on the role as a team’s number one option. Aldridge has never been a true number one option in the NBA, and it might not be the right point of his career to take on that role given the fact that he will be thirty years old at the beginning of next season.
If Aldridge decides to leave Portland, the two most likely destinations seem to be San Antonio or Dallas. But if Aldridge is being honest with himself, he probably doesn’t want to be the replacement for either Tim Duncan or Dirk Nowitzki given their illustrious careers. That would almost certainly leave fans underwhelmed.
It’s still early in the process, and Aldridge has plenty of time to ruminate before the start of free agency. After playing in Portland for so many years, he has to have a certain comfort level there that he might not have if he went elsewhere. Aldridge isn’t just comfortable off the court. Assuming the rest of the Blazers core group returns next season healthy, no other team is likely to provide Aldridge with a supporting cast as good as the one he has now, and they already know his tendencies and how to play off of him. Simply put, Aldridge would be foolish not to at least sign a short-term deal and give it one more go at bringing a championship to Rip City.