There has been a lot of speculation about Portland trading LaMarcus Aldridge, and with good reason. He's an all-star player on a small market team that was plagued by injuries and forced to rebuild in the middle of his prime. Many rumors spread like wildfire that LA wanted out of Portland, which make it difficult to determine what's going to happen to the elite power forward. And to top all of that, Dave convincingly wrote about a new direction for the Blazers, that can be summarized as a post-LA move. In other words, all indications are that Aldridge will be moved sooner or later.
There's a lot of credit to this way of thinking. With the new CBA, this process to compile a great team through full rebuilding and building through the draft is a popular way to put together a championship-contending team. However, this is only one of Portland's many option of building a championship-level team, and I think it is ignoring many of the OTHER signs that point towards Portland trying to keep LA.
Reasons Why Portland Won't Trade LA (yet):
1 - We have a core that has already proven it can compete with any other team
Last year, we had one of the weakest benches in the NBA. That's a given. Yet, through most of the season, we held our own against top-tier teams (we beat Miami, San Antonio, Indiana, Clippers, among others at least once). With one of the weakest benches in the NBA and still pulling out wins, it speaks to the potential of this core 4 players if only provided with enough support (i.e. bench and starting center). Don't forget that it was reported that Neil Olshey regretted not filling out the bench last year. While this off-season may speak to the potential to move LA in the future, it also shows that the front office is first giving this core group another chance to prove their potential. Don't count LA out yet.
2 - Neil Olshey promised Paul Allen we would be more competitive this year
It would be "career-suicide" to get rid of your all-star power forward and initiate a full-rebuild right after you promise your boss that we would be more competitive this year. This suggests that either we would get another all-star in return (unlikely) or that we see how we do this year and then determine whether to trade LA in the off-season or prior to the trade deadline in 2015. Aldridge is not only hard to replace, but makes other players better (Lillard, most of all) by being able to hit that mid-range jumper out of the pick and roll.
3 - We have complementary players and contracts to build a contending team
If there is one thing that is required to build a championship-level team, it is cheap talent. Players that out-perform their contracts. If you look at the two teams in the championship this year, you have both Kawhi Leonard (Spurs) and Allen or Birdman (Heat) that met this requirement. Of course there are many other factors that contribute to a championship team, but with a low salary cap and a harsh luxury tax, this is almost a given for small market teams to be contenders. This comes most often through rookie contracts or veteran contracts signing for a contender. Not only do we have one of the best contracts in Lillard, we also have Matthews at approx. 6 mil a year. I know he's not close to being an all-star, but he shoots well and is a cheap starter, allowing us to spend more money on other positions and bench players. Lillard is not going to remain cheap forever and if we trade LA, the odds of getting another player that out-performs his contract this much (while paying Lillard a max contract, or close to that) is slim-to-none. Damian Lillard gives us options (win now or win later), but we shouldn't ignore win now.
4 - Trading LA doesn't fit Neil Olshey's M.O.
Neil Olshey has been known as a guy with a plan for some time. When the Blazers hired him, he had proven success with turning around one of the worst franchises in NBA history (Clippers). We should not forget how Neil Olshey built that team to what it currently is. He gathered assets and then made a trade for an all-star. He didn't trade away Blake Griffin to build through the draft. He was on the other end of things. While there may be writing on the wall that LA is not the long-term plan, we should not discredit Neil Olshey for preparing for another blockbuster trade. The first step to do so is to acquire enough assets and then some (so the team is more than 5-6 players deep after the trade). We all know that Olshey was limited in what he could do this off-season. He didn't have enough cap space to go after an all-star (Howard, Smith, etc.) and he also needed to address the center problem and bench. Without giving up much, he acquired several players that could make up a blockbuster trade in the future. It's not a given, but it has potential. Of course I know that he won't follow the same pattern as he did with the Clippers, but it's worth considering.
To be clear, I'm not saying LA definitely won't be traded, but with a proven core, an owner that wants to win now, and a team with potential to have many young assets to compile a trade, it's not as black and white as some may think it is. This off-season I see an organization that was committed to keeping its core players together while adding key players without sacrificing future flexibility too much. Neil Olshey may be preparing for the worst (being forced to trade LA) in getting Robinson as a backup power forward with a future, but I don't think it's accurate to suggest the organization is already committed to a full rebuild. I'm excited to see how this plays out.
What do you think?