Sandwiched between the Blazers' free agent signings of center Chris Kaman and guard Steve Blake early last week, All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge told The Oregonian's Joe Freeman that he turned down a three-year, $55 million contract extension offered by the team this offseason. By waiting until the summer of 2015 to re-up with Portland, Aldridge will be eligible to sign a five-year, $108 million deal that would keep him in a Blazers uniform through the 2019-20 season.
Portland GM Neil Olshey and owner Paul Allen both made the trip to offer Aldridge the extension, reportedly telling him they'd like to see the soon-to-be 29-year-old -- his birthday is this Saturday -- finish his career with the Blazers. Aldridge told Freeman the offer made him "feel better about [his] position in Portland going forward," expressed mutual interest in retiring with the team that drafted him, and went on to state some lofty long-term goals:
"I want to be the best Blazer - ever," Aldridge said. "If I stay the rest of my career, I should be able to catch Clyde [Drexler] by then. I should be able to leave a mark on a big-time franchise that is going to be seen forever. And I will be able to say I played here my whole career. This city has embraced me and grown with me. I have so much history, it just makes sense to stay."
How would Aldridge's career have to unfold for Portland fans to consider him Rip City's greatest player of all-time, assuming he'd only have to pass Drexler at this point for the distinction?
Aldridge has played in 577 games over eight seasons with the Blazers, putting him at No. 7 all-time for the team in games played and trailing Drexler's 867 appearances -- No. 1 overall for the franchise. If Aldridge played the rest of his career at his average rate -- just over 72 games a year -- he'd need a little more than four years to shoot to the top of that list. If he signs his five-year extension next summer, Aldridge would likely become Portland's career leader in games played with almost two full seasons remaining on his contract and at the age of 33.
Averaging 2557.5 minutes per year in Portland, Aldridge would need under four years to take the top spot in total minutes played for the Blazers, which is currently held by Drexler with 29,496. He also is No. 1 overall in field goals made and attempted, though Aldridge is within shouting distance at No. 2 in both categories and could catch him in less than five years at his current rate.
Drexler is Portland's highest-scoring player of all-time, registering 18,040 points with the team. Aldridge has scored 10,901 points as a Blazer, good for the third spot on the list. Averaging about 1363 points a season for his career, the eight-year man out of Texas would need five-and-a-half seasons to surpass Drexler at that rate. Aldridge did score 1,603 points last year, though, and at that pace, would take over the Blazers' top all-time scoring spot a full year earlier.
Drexler's assist, steal and minutes-per-game numbers are all most likely safely out of Aldridge's reach at this point, but the power forward will handily hold advantages in career rebounds and blocks to go along with far fewer turnovers when his playing days are over. Free throws made and attempted should be a closer race, but both players will almost certainly finish in the top two spots withinin each respective category.
Neither Aldridge nor Drexler are top-10 in career field goal percentage for the team. Aldridge is the better per-game rebounder, landing at No. 9 on that list with 8.2 per game while Drexler's 5.7 assists per game put him at No. 8 all-time. Both players are top-five in career PER, only separated by 1.3 points in that category.
Drexler currently has the edge over Aldridge in personal accolades: in over 11 seasons with the Blazers, he represented them at the All-Star game eight times, compared to Aldridge's three All-Star appearances so far. Drexler was All-NBA First, Second or Third team four times with Portland and finished second in NBA Most Valuable Player voting in 1991-92, while also representing the Dream Team in the Olympics that summer. Aldridge has twice garnered All-NBA Third Team honors as a Blazer and finished in the top-10 of MVP voting for the first time last season. He was also a member of the 28-player pool -- along with teammate Damian Lillard -- that will be used to compose the U.S. team for the 2014 FIBA World Cup, but he withdrew on Monday.
The playoff success for Drexler is unquestionable. In his 11+ seasons with the Blazers, his teams never missed the postseason. For a three-year stretch from 1990-92, the Hall of Fame guard took Portland to the NBA Finals, the Western Conference Finals and then back to the NBA Finals. Drexler's Blazers teams were bounced from the playoffs in the first round seven times.
Aldridge has been a part of four playoff teams with Portland in his eight seasons, losing in the first round three times before advancing to the second round for the first time last year. Drexler has the advantage over Aldridge in total playoffs points (2015 vs. 644), rebounds (670 vs. 243), assists (640 vs. 45), steals (190 vs. 25) and blocks (79 vs. 49).
If Aldridge stays relatively healthy for the rest of his career, he should be able to surpass Drexler on the Blazers all-time lists for almost all regular season statistics, save for steals and assists -- though he'll have way more blocks and fewer turnovers.
If you gauge a player's success by his individual honors, Aldridge still has to make five All-Star teams going forward to match Drexler in that category and needs to make an All-NBA team at least twice in the future. Will Aldridge ever get as close to the MVP award as Drexler did in '92 when he came in second to Michael Jordan? Maybe, but it'd take a monster season from the power forward to get that kind of consideration.
If Aldridge -- who will make almost $180 million in his career as a Blazer if he signs his five-year extension next summer, compared to the $9 million Drexler raked in from Portland in 11-and-a-half seasons from 1983 to 1995 -- can guide his teams to playoff success the next several years, he'll move up the team's postseason records and be either No. 1 or 2 in most relevant statistical categories.
It's hard to imagine the Blazers in the next handful of years having as solid a stretch as the 1990-92 teams but if they do, Aldridge will immediately be deserving of consideration as the best Blazer of all time. If Portland wins an NBA championship in that window or Aldridge somehow ends up as the league's MVP, he'll likely surpass Drexler as the franchise's greatest player ever -- at that point, the regular season stats, individual awards and postseason success would all point that way. As it stands now, though, Aldridge still has plenty left to prove before he's considered the best Blazer ever.
What do you think Aldridge has to do for wide consideration as Portland's greatest all-time talent? Will the gaudy regular season statistics do it for you, or do you need to see sustained playoff success, multiple deep postseason runs and a shelf full of individual awards before you see Drexler knocked off the top podium in Rip City lore?
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter