As we take a breath between the draft and the opening of free agency, time to address a couple LaMarcus Aldridge questions...
Since the Blazers offered LaMarcus Aldridge a maximum extension, do you think he'll accept? Wouldn't he be proving his loyalty?
He'd be showing way more than that. Mostly a penchant for gambling.
Storyteller penned a great piece for us a few weeks ago detailing how technically Aldridge could make $4-5 million more (total) over 5 years by signing an extension through 2017 and then inking a maximum contract after instead of heading to free agency next summer for the max. But that's $4-5 million against the total of over $100 million either way.
To eke out that extra 4-5% bonus Aldridge would bet on his ability to jump the gap between 2015 and 2017 without significant injury, playing at the same ultra-high level he performs at now. If he gets injured over those two years or if his play diminishes he becomes a less than max-level player and loses money. Aldridge will turn 32 in the summer of 2017, another factor slanting his value downward.
It makes no sense for Aldridge to jump early and leave money on the table. The reward of doing so doesn't come close to justifying the risk. Aldridge will get his chance to be the belle of the ball next summer with teams wooing him the way they are Carmelo Anthony this summer. Assuming the team's fortunes remain steady he'll probably end up re-signing with Portland but it'll feel nice to be asked elsewhere, I'm sure. He'll walk away with a huge paycheck and massive respect either way, a great event for a guy who's been slightly undervalued his whole career.
As far as the loyalty issue, that has to work both ways in order to be valid. You love Aldridge. I love Aldridge. We ALL love Aldridge. Why? Because he plays like LaMarcus Aldridge. If Aldridge played like Mo Williams we wouldn't feel the same affection for him. Instead we'd be debating whether the Blazers should re-sign him and/or including him in every half-baked trade proposal that crossed our minds. He'd be just as disposable as any other player. We're neither loyal to, nor in love with, LaMarcus Aldridge the person. We're loyal to and in love with LaMarcus Aldridge the mega-talented basketball player.
LaMarcus Aldridge plays basketball for money for a limited amount of time. That's his livelihood. He owes loyalty and his best efforts to the Portland Trail Blazers as long as he's under contract to play for them. As soon as that contract is done, his loyalty properly and fully transfers to whomever he goes under contract to next...Portland or otherwise.
We cannot expect Aldridge to love and be loyal to the city or the uniform when we're not returning the same to him. He needs to make his decisions the same way we make our assessments of him: based on skill, production, and value.
You said you'd trade Aldridge for Joel Embiid? Really? Is Embiid that good?
Nope, I didn't say that. I said IF the Blazers were going to make a move into the draft it should be for a ner-guaranteed, star-level player because the price would be that high either way.
In no universe would the Blazers have gotten high enough into the selection queue with any of their non-star players to justify trading them. The value just wasn't there for Portland to make that kind of move. Neither would trading last year's young players for this year's young players in a more modest exchange make sense. The only reasonable way into the pool was the cannonball, as big of a splash as possible.
Nor did I say I'd trade Aldridge for Embiid alone, though the text of the deal would read so. Portland's return on the trade would be threefold: Embiid, the salary cap difference between the two players, and aligning the growth schedule with Portland's younger players (Damian Lillard in particular) than Aldridge's age allows. The Blazers would have retained more cap flexibility next summer than their current situation allows, able to pick and choose starters to retain around the Lillard-Embiid core while fishing for a third star-level player to add to the mix.
Not only that, but I qualified the deal by saying Embiid would have to be healthy, which he was not. As soon as his foot injury sidelined him, that possibility was off the table for Portland.
To answer the other part of your question, yes...Embiid looks like a jaw-dropping talent. I'd not go as far as some, throwing out comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon. In my world you don't compare anyone to one of the best of all time until they've shown it. But the way Embiid moves and his floor presence combined with his size make him special. If he can stay healthy he has a chance to become a generation-defining player. You just do not see his skill, grace, and footwork in 7-footers anymore.
If you want to understand how much I value Aldridge's contributions to the Blazers right now, digest what I just said about Embiid and look at all the qualifications I put on the deal: if Embiid were healthy because of the extra cap space, future flexibility, and age timetable. In other words, just measuring talent and importance to the team right now I wouldn't trade Aldridge for a once-in-a-generation future star.
Last note on Embiid...his injury and his presence in this draft made me regret Greg Oden's demise all over again, not from a Blazer-centric position but for the league as a whole. It's easy to imagine battles between a healthy Oden, a healthy Embiid, and Anthony Davis for years to come. Throw Andrew Bynum into that mix if you want. People complain that NBA centers aren't what they used to be. Maybe they're right. But injuries to nearly all of the best prospects in the last decade provide part of the answer. It's easy to glorify the 90's when we had Michael Jordan, Clyde Drexler, John Stockton and Karl Malone, plus Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing and David Robinson. We'd see similar breadth of talent today with LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Tim Duncan, et al. if this generation's great centers hadn't been decimated by injuries. We could easily be witnessing another golden age. That makes me sad.
Lots of free agency questions are coming your way! If you have one, send them to the e-mail address below marked with "Mailbag" in the subject line.
--Dave firstname.lastname@example.org / @DaveDeckard