This is the biggest question facing the Blazers. Team brass says "He's our All-Star, our cornerstone", but is that really the case? I for one, think LMA is supremely talented with skills few other bigs in the NBA possess. That makes him an important and unique commodity. But I also get a sense that he has settled in to what he's going to be the rest of his career, which is a Top 5 PF in the game who gets you 21 and 8 every night. Nothing more, nothing less. A nice complementary piece on an elite team, but not the superstar to carry you there.
Is Lillard's development enough to carry the burden of being the top option and leader of this team? Only time will tell. He hasn't reached his ceiling, but as we've seen around the league it takes two legit, stone-cold, unquestionable superstars to be REAL contenders. I feel good about Dame's prospects of achieving that status. However, to get to the mountaintop it's going to take at least one other big time player who is more than just a stat filler. If LMA possessed the intangibles of a Tim Duncan
or a Kevin Garnett
, than this conversation is a moot point. You just let Lillard come into his own and you're there. But LMA, in my opinion, hasn't demonstrated the leadership needed to be the foundational pillar. The popular and accurate anology is that he's Chris Bosh
...a necessary piece, but not core difference maker.
A good case in point is the horrific interior defense the team has played this year. Granted the bench is thin and Leonard is very green, but this is where Aldridge has a clear opportunity to step up and take ownership. He could be setting a tone with the team about protecting the paint through his own efforts, but also forcing guys like JJ and Batum to be accountable. LMA will never be associated with the word "toughness", but for me to see growth in him as a player and leader, it would be this kind of new found defensive effort and intensity. The best players in the game are great two way players. 7 years in, you'd think he would have discovered this by now, but the light bulb hasn't completely gone off. Sure the team needs his scoring to be competitive and exerting a lot of effort defensively can take a lot out of you, but it's required for LMA to take that next step.
So I go back to my original question. Where are we going with LMA as an Olshey crowned cornerstone? Do you think it's more about filling out the bench and finding a serviceable 7ft stiff to fill the middle until Leonard is ready and that will be enough to vault this team into contention? Or is it going to take a sign and trade swap for say a Josh Smith
who brings passion and tough defense to a team? Or do you think Aldridge is capable of becoming more self aware in his deficiencies and he makes the leap at age 28?