You're clearly in the Keep Lamarcus Aldridge camp at least from what I can tell from your mailbag answers. I'm there too but I'm worried. Can you give me a scenario that you like if Lamarcus leaves? I mean a specific one? I don't care if its a free agent or a trade I just want some hope, realistic tho. Please?
As I've said in previous Mailbags, the number of variables involved in any given scenario makes answering this type of question hard. But since you said please, fine. Here's one scenario that could work.
When we last addressed trading LaMarcus Aldridge almost two years ago, we mentioned that his age puts him somewhat out of step with the rest of the team. On July 19th he'll become the first Trail Blazers starter to hit 30. Damian Lillard will have just turned 25. Wesley Matthews isn't that far behind Aldridge while Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez stand at the midpoint between Lillard and LaMarcus. This gap isn't a problem, but the team does have the luxury of thinking younger if Aldridge leaves.
Age provides some justification for Aldridge to look elsewhere this summer as well. He has maybe 3 years left in his prime. Lillard is looking at 8 and everybody else 4-6. If Aldridge isn't confident the Blazers will contend in the next couple years he might want to find a team farther along the curve.
If Aldridge is looking to make a significiant difference to a contending team and if the Blazers feel they have a couple years to develop younger, talented players, I'd suggest looking to the Chicago Bulls. Aldridge would need to agree to a sign-and-trade. The Blazers would ask for Nikola Mirotic as the young, talented part of the deal and Taj Gibson to make salaries match.
The Bulls just dropped their playoff series to the Cleveland Cavaliers. They're stacked but never seem to get over the hump. With Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol playing major roles, their biological clock is ticking faster every week. Fielding Aldridge alongside Noah, Gasol, Derrick Rose, and Jimmy Butler would give them a huge shot in the arm. It'd make them instant favorites in the East. Even though Mirotic has plenty of potential and In a couple years he could be spectacular, Aldridge outclasses him (and Gibson) by miles right now.
On the other side of the ledger, Mirotic's skills would fit Terry Stotts' system to a "T"...as in "Terrific". Though Gibson is mostly cap necessity, he's good enough to keep Portland respectable while Mirotic develops. The Blazers would be worse off in 2015-16 but not abysmal. After that it only gets better.
Portland could also look forward to increased cap space. Together Mirotic and Gibson make less than Aldridge would on a new contract. Knowing they weren't contending next year would allow the Blazers to dump veteran salaries this summer. Chris Kaman and Steve Blake would be unnecessary. They would probably keep Wesley Matthews or Arron Afflalo, not both.
Going young would give the Blazers plenty of incentive to play CJ McCollum and Meyers Leonard, though with Mirotic on board Leonard would probably switch back to center instead of power forward. They could develop Meyers into a "third guard" equivalent in the front court, able to spell Mirotic or their eventual starting center.
Damian Lillard would remain a centerpiece of the revamped roster but Matthews, Robin Lopez, and eventually Nicolas Batum would be more expendable than they'd be in an Aldridge-centered lineup. The Blazers could keep them on shorter contracts or let them go for cap space. With all three players scheduled to make 8 figures, the potential savings is significant. Or that trio could fill out a nice starting lineup which Portland could bolster with more moderate cap room. Either way the Blazers would gain leverage over the contracts they offer and flexibility over their cap, as opposed to the near-necessity of tying down an expensive starting lineup long-term if Aldridge returns.
Granted, this would herald a return to the, "Wait and see, we've got options" approach that has typified the last three summers. Neil Olshey could just hit "play" on his 2013 interviews and call it a summer. But as far as rebuilds go, it'd be a reasonably short one. Potential cap space in 2015, 2016, and 2017 (depending on who was retained and at what price) plus the development of Mirotic, Lillard, McCollum, Leonard could lead to a fairly nice roster two years down the road.
This scenario isn't perfect but it does illustrate that the Blazers have options. It all depends how much they're willing to sacrifice or, if you prefer, gamble. If they're sure Aldridge will return, the incentive to gamble is small. But if they know he's leaving, swinging for a younger, talented team plus cap space suddenly seems attractive...certainly more attractive than trying to forge ahead on the current course without him.
And yeah, Hannah, I'd probably like this deal. So there you go.
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