Welcome Aldridge and Mills

No doubt you've read, right below and at a host of other venues, the big news of the day.  (See the post following this one for all the links.)  All that's left is the veil-lifting and the smooch before LaMarcus Aldridge and the Trail Blazers officially enter wedded bliss for the next five years to the tune of $65-70 million total on the contract.  All the Blazer fans in the pews are already applauding vigorously, some no doubt dabbing their eyes with a hanky.

This is a solid move for the franchise, though not without its risks.  There's no doubt Aldridge deserved a ton of money.  His offensive and physical development have already established him as a solid player and a good bet for the future.  He's lingering in the space between a good and very good new-age power forward with definite potential to become great.  He's a good fit with Greg Oden as well.  For all of these reasons and more the Blazers had to retain him.  Both LaMarcus and his agent knew this and knew what he was worth and they got it, with perhaps a little frosting thrown in.  He's as close to a max contract as you can get without actually being maxed...just below the expectations of a superstar, almost all the pay.

The risk here is twofold.  First, the Blazers are definitely paying Aldridge based on future expectations.  That always carried uncertainty with it.  The new salary puts LaMarcus into the top 5% of league earners.  It's a potential ramp-up for Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett level compensation in his next contract.  He's not that player yet nor, truth be told, even that kind of prospect yet.  He's very good at the things he does well but if the Blazers need rebounding, passing, or more straight-up defense he's not going to be the guy to provide it.  This brings up the second risk.  If anything happens to Greg Oden then LaMarcus loses his counter-balance and suddenly looks overpaid as the not-quite-superstar trying to carry the frontcourt load himself.  That contract is going to be hard to move even when it comes close to expiration, as LaMarcus will be looking for at least a continuation, if not the ramped-up raise we just mentioned.  He is almost certainly going to be a Blazer for five full years now, for better or worse.  The only exception would be if there were already a superstar deal in the works for which LaMarcus' salary and potential were the ballast.  But that seems unlikely.

Whether this was a good, let alone an ideal, move for the Blazers is a moot point.  It was necessary and that's the end of the story.  As long as the team stays healthy around him and we can let LaMarcus do the things he does best it should turn out great for all involved.

The other news, also chronicled by Ben just below, was the signing of Patty Mills to fill Portland's 15th roster spot.  Minor tremors have resulted, as folks are unsure why Mills, who is injured and technically could have played overseas and still been retained  (brain cramp...2nd rounder)  is a better candidate for that slot than Ime Udoka or Jarron Collins.  Rumor has it that this wasn't Nate McMillan's first choice.  That could be expected.  A coach always wants options and Udoka or Collins would have been far more viable.  Plus the roster has already been thinned by injuries.  In spite of that, here are some possible justifications:

1.  The Blazers are committed to carrying one inexperienced foreign point guard about whom fans can speculate and dream, causing them to bash every other point guard on the roster and vilify the coach for not playing him.  It's just so Portland.

2.  Mills really is that good.  He could be the point guard of the future that the team lacks.

3.  Udoka and Collins really weren't that good.  They did, after all, accept camp invitations from a team that's stacked at their respective positions.  They also got beat out by a guy with a broken foot who plays at a position that's just as stacked.

4.  Doing it this way saved a couple bucks.

5.   The coach has plenty of input regarding the rotation spots and their back-ups, but the 15th spot is GM's Choice.  He gets to take a flyer on a guy.  Hey, if you're giving your 15th-man veteran serious playing time you've already lost the race anyway.

In any case, all will be forgotten in less than a week when the regular season tips.  For now, welcome Patty and welcome back LaMarcus.  Good to have you onboard.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com

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