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The Curious Case of LaMarcus Aldridge

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As Cavejunctionblazer has pointed out in the sidebar, one of the continuing dramas of the late summer is the contractual status of LaMarcus Aldridge.  While the process is garnering far less ink and angst than Brandon Roy's contract negotiations a few weeks ago, two facts remain clear:

1.  Aldridge is a key player for the Blazers.  Without his full production (and more) the team has no hope of bettering their finish from last season.  Indeed, LaMarcus could be considered the most indispensible member in the lineup right now for the simple fact that he's the only guy playing without a potential full-time reserve behind him.

2.  He ain't been re-signed yet.

Obviously the Blazers will have Aldridge's services this year no matter what.  But just as obviously they won't want him to get anywhere near restricted free agency.  Not only is it a sloppy and tension-fraught way to do business with your main players, you also run the risk of having to march to someone else's tune even more than is true in standard negotiations.  Toxic contracts work both ways.  The only way the Blazers will accept Aldridge getting through this year and testing the market is if he absolutely insists on a maximum deal, they absolutely don't want to give it to him, and they think there's no way he'll be offered anything close next summer.  Failing that he'll either be extended or moved this year.  Since the latter is far more complicated let's assume now that extension is the first choice for all involved.  Let's throw open the discussion on the main page as well.  What do you think LaMarcus is worth and what would/should he accept?

These negotiations are far more complex than the Roy discussions.  Brandon clearly held all the cards as he played his hand.  The Blazers could posture and delay but everyone on the planet knew he was worth everything he asked for and almost everyone knew he was going to get exactly that.  The Aldridge tableau is harder to figure.

Is LaMarcus a max-level player?  He's not at this point.  He, himself, has alluded to that fact.  But I wouldn't put a ton of stock in those mutterings right now.  Things have a way of changing when you see the dollar figures of your colleagues in black and white.  Even if Aldridge doesn't want precisely the deal that Roy got he's going to be asking to be a shade under, not a mile under.  He's never viewed their respective roles as Batman and Robin.  It's more like the Superfriends.  He's willing to contribute to the whole, I'm sure, but he's not going to be content to play clear second fiddle on the court or financially.  He's going to be a star and he'll want to be recognized as one on his pay stubs.

Adding to the murk is Aldridge's future potential.  While he's not a max-level player now it's possible that he could become one.  A Chris Bosh level of play, if not statistically at least in effect, is not wholly out of the question.  It's more likely (especially in his own view, I'm sure) that he will be limited by having to fit in with the team than it is that the team will be limited by his lack of talent.  It's seldom prudent to give a huge deal to guys based on potential but when you see so much in a player, and more to the point you depend on him so much, it's not unheard of and may be smart.

But we're not done yet.  Since he came on board it has seemed clear that if any one of the Big Three would be prone to leaving the team to find happiness elsewhere it's LaMarcus.  Roy is Mr. Blazer and always will be.  Oden fits in here too well, both in terms of need and personality, not to stick around.  If he thinks he was ill-treated here during his somewhat disappointing rookie season he should try the spotlight in New York.  How long do you think it would take Knicks fans and their media to figure out that "Oden" is an anagram for "Done"?  How about the "Go-‘Den!" and "No Show-Den" signs?  But LaMarcus has both the justification (talent and usage) and personality to believe that the grass is greener elsewhere.  Proving or disproving that, or rather costing him the chance to do so, may require extra dollars on Portland's part.  He's the shakiest fit and thus possibly the most expensive relative to contributions.

On the other hand you know if the Blazers dug in to the extent they did with Brandon Roy they're going to dig in harder with LaMarcus.  With all of the young players on the roster they're almost certainly wary of being seen as the ATM franchise.  At some point they're going to want to prove that the bucks stop here.  If they couldn't do it with #1, then #1a seems like a pretty good place to start.  Having signed Roy's check and not wanting to break the bank for Outlaw, Fernandez, Oden, et al Aldridge looks like the logical place to start.  Whatever they actually end up spending they're going to make sure it was hard-earned.

With all of these factors coming into play to one extent or another mapping a clear course is hard.  I don't see any way the Blazers can afford to lose LaMarcus short of a spectacular trade.  But I don't see them eager to pay above market price for him either.  And we don't know exactly what market price is at this point.

So let's throw it open.  Is LaMarcus worth a max deal?  Is he worth a ton of money but short of max?  As with Roy, should the Blazers just give him whatever he asks for and count themselves fortunate to have him?  Is he a future Co-#1, #1a, #2, or eventually something else altogether for this team?  How much negotiation power do you think he has and how much will the Blazers fight to lower his price?  Most importantly, how does this all turn out?

Share your thoughts and reasoning below.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)