The potential of a LaMarcus Aldridge trade has been one of the hotter topics around Blazer Nation over the last two weeks. Whether you believe that Aldridge wants out immediately or whether you think he said, "Purple Money Waterballoon Jujubes" to a reporter somewhere and the game of Media Post Office turned it into a trade request, rumors are swirling and offers are coming in. Love it or hate it, sticking fingers in ears and shouting, "La la la!" won't make it go away. So it's time to explore what such a move would look like, the better to assess its desirability.
As we detailed in this year's free-agency preview post, trading LaMarcus Aldridge would amount to a complete revamp of Portland's roster. The Blazers pack talent around Aldridge but so little of it is definitive. Nicolas Batum is mercurial and not the kind of player you'd envision leading the team. Wesley Matthews is hard working but limited to a few strengths. Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard is the clear hope for the future but short of an M.V.P. trophy one player does not an new era make. Plus he's only in his second season, which actually qualifies him as an elder statesman on this team. All the other Blazers--Meyers Leonard, Joel Freeland, Victor Claver, Will Barton, C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Jeff Withey, Thomas Robinson--are either rookies or sophomores themselves.
Aside from Aldridge himself this is not Team Now. This is either Team Four Years from Now (young guys) or Team Same Either Way (Batum and Matthews). This illustrates why Aldridge, an unquestioned start in his prime, sticks out like a sore thumb against the background. It also illuminates why trading him could end up making sense, and that doing so will redefine the team by removing its only true anchor point.
Understanding this, we can extrapolate what kind of assets the Blazers would want in return for Aldridge. All-Star for All-Star trades are rare. Your trading partner usually wants your All-Star to pair with their own, not to replace him. With few execptions that kind of trade wouldn't make sense for Portland anyway unless the All-Star were younger than Aldridge. They'd end up in the same position, lacking talent and timing for a cohesive run.
Young talent, draft picks, and cap space would all serve the Blazers well. The cap space wouldn't have to manifest this season. Losing Aldridge would leave the Blazers with multiple, cheap, young-player deals and not much else. Replacing Aldridge's salary with simultaneously-expiring contracts would allow the Blazers cap flexibility in whichever summer the deals ended.
The catch here is that all three options leave the Blazers far less certainty than Aldridge does. He's Portland's best player, an All-Star, a reliable scorer, and arguably the best all-around power forward in the league. They cannot afford to give him away for Magic Beans and promises. Young talent has to be promising, draft picks projected to be high (and unprotected), and cap space piled on top of the other two in order for the deal to make sense for the Blazers.
This sets the criteria for Portland's trade partners. They have to be established enough to need Aldridge in order to push to the next level. In addition they need some combination of surplus young talent, draft picks that still forecast as lottery even with LaMarcus joining their team (next year's being most likely, else why would they want LMA for an extended non-playoff run), and either the cap space to absorb Aldridge in an imbalanced trade or expiring contracts to frost the deal with.
Using these standards, combing through the league is a relatively easy matter.
The Hawks have plenty of salary space to absorb Aldridge's contract, one of the few teams in the league who could give the Blazers complete salary relief. Other than that, a sign-and-trade with Josh Smith would be the likeliest option. Al Horford is in Aldridge's salary range but it's unlikely the Hawks would consider a Horford-for-Aldridge exchange a step forward and neither would the Blazers. Atlanta doesn't have many young prospects who would be attractive to Portland.
The Celtics just got a boxcar full of first-round picks in their blockbuster deal with Brooklyn. The problem is, the picks potentially high enough to entice the Blazers (assuming Brooklyn falls apart at some point) are years down the road. Also Boston remains over the cap, meaning they'd have to trade a bunch of junk salaries to the Blazers in order to absorb Aldridge. That's not attractive.
The Nets are way over the cap and bereft of draft picks to trade. Their only enticing move would be Brook Lopez for Aldridge. It's hard to see them taking that deal immediately. Maybe after the Garnett-Pierce experiment has run its course.
Charlotte has just enough cap space to take Aldridge if they gave back Cody Zeller or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. They also have attractive pick status. The question is, would they package that much (from their perspective) to get Aldridge?
We've been over this forwards, backwards, and sideways. The Bulls don't have anything to give up besides (maybe) Joakim Noah or (certainly) Derrick Rose that would even mildly interest Portland. And they're not giving up those two.
The Cavaliers have cap space, some young talent, and nice picks to deal. They'd also like Aldridge. But Aldridge may also drive them out of the lottery--and will certainly drive them out of the prime lottery spots--in the relatively weak Eastern Conference.
The Mavericks would be interested in Aldridge if they lose the Dwight Howard sweepstakes but they have nothing to offer but cap space unless you want to project them as a high lottery team in the near future.
Unless they're willing to offer a package like JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried, the Nuggets just don't have the juice to get this done.
Detroit has the magic combination of young players (bigs, no less), picks, and cap space to make this kind of deal happen. Are they in the right zone for Aldridge, though? They can't think they're too close, nor too far away, or they wouldn't want him. But if they felt they needed a prime-time player and were willing to look at trading Andre Drummond (or to a lesser extent, Greg Monroe) Portland would no doubt listen. It gets more interesting when you start talking next year's first-rounder or even Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for Wesley Matthews in addition.
No cap space, no enticing picks, and nobody they would actually trade would get the deal done.
The Rockets would have cap space if Dwight Howard spurns them. They'd also have a desire for Aldridge to soothe their wounded pride. What package would get this done, though? Omer Asik might attract the Blazers but he's not enough on his own and trading him would leave the Rockets without a center. The talent doesn't add up easily for a switch here.
The Pacers could have a power-forward hole in their roster and they do have some cap space. Their draft picks won't be enticing on their own. Paul George might make the Blazers sit up and take notice, but do the Pacers believe in the return of Danny Granger that much?
They have DeAndre Jordan but acquiring him doesn't make much sense for the Blazers if Aldridge is leaving. Other than that there's nothing here to see.
The Grizzlies are capped out and without much young talent plus they're a playoff team. Unless they want to discuss Marc Gasol, there's no opportunity here.
The Bucks have cap space, Ersan Ilyasova, and some uncertainty in their immediate future. Their offers would be less attractive than some others but they might be able to get Portland to listen with the right picks thrown in.
This is one of the few places where a star-for-star swap might work, as the 'Wolves and Kevin Love have hit a rough patch. But if Aldridge wanted out because the Blazers were young and couldn't build around him, how would he feel about a franchise in total disarray? That disarray could make Minnesota draft picks attractive but it's hard to see who else they'd trade to make that deal work besides Love.
The Pelicans are looking to take off behind Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis. They'd no doubt value Aldridge highly. They could absorb salary. Any players they'd send in return outside of Eric Gordon (expensive yuck) would be a hodgepodge. Ryan Anderson is a great young stretch four but for whom would the Blazers be stretching absent Aldridge? Pelicans picks could be attractive depending on how far and how quickly they rose with LMA in tow.
Really? You'd send Aldridge here?
They've got enough cap room to take LMA if they sent back a modest contract like Glen Davis. They've got young players like Nikola Vucevic and Victor Oladipo. Their draft picks would be really nice. It feels like they're too far away to make use of Aldridge though, especially if they traded one of those young guys.
The Sixers will have cap space after the Jrue Holiday deal. They might not be fully-formed enough in 2013-14 to make the playoffs, making their next draft pick attractive if it's unprotected. That's all you'd get from them though. Their trade-worthy players are not in Portland's wheelhouse.
The Suns don't have any interesting players to send to Portland and with Aldridge they'd be closer to mediocre than bad. No deal looks likely here.
Who the heck knows what the Kings are doing? They're the crazy cousins of the conference. But if they wanted to shop DeMarcus Cousins and a draft pick? The Blazers would have to listen to that even if Cousins is a nut. They'd get cap savings, a talented big, and a prime pick next year. I'd like to speculate that this wouldn't fit with Sacramento's plans but again, who the heck knows what the Kings are doing?
I'm not sure what they could offer.
They're capped and their younger guys are pretty gross. The Blazers would have to take on some expiring contracts and a whole bunch of draft picks to make this work.
The Jazz have plenty of cap space and only 7 real players under contract, none of them forwards. If the Blazers liked Paul Millsap a sign-and-trade might be in order. One would guess a Utah pick would need to come along with him.
This isn't a tight team but they're good enough to make the playoffs in the East. The Blazers would have to take expiring contracts and not much else for Aldridge.
A Note on Multi-Team Deals
One of the side-effects of plenty of cap space around the league this summer and a less-talented free agent crop will be teams holding on to unused space as their prospects dwindle. This could have the side-effect of facilitating multi-team trades, as innocent bystanders might be willing to absorb players for free with that excess cap room. Part of the problem with the above list is that teams who need Aldridge don't have attractive assets whereas teams with the assets might not need him. Multi-team permutations could increase the field of play beyond the handful of cases where need and bounty overlap.
So what say you? Which, if any, of the Aldridge trade possibilities intrigue you most? What semi-reasonable package would get a deal done if you were GM? Let us know below.