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Caution: Don't Believe Everything You Read About LaMarcus Aldridge

Rumor has it that LaMarcus Aldridge might be interested in the Dallas Mavericks. Maybe we shouldn't be listening to the rumors.

Could these two ever pair up? Doubtful.
Could these two ever pair up? Doubtful.
Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

I'd be remiss not to first acknowledge this - the NBA offseason is painfully long, especially for teams that miss the playoffs or get knocked out early. The Trail Blazers were eliminated from the postseason on April 29; free agency gets underway July 1. That leaves nine weeks in between, an interminable period of time that's virtually impossible to fill with news items that are accurate, relevant and actually worth discussing. So sometimes, people make stuff up. That's the nature of the business.

That nine weeks of painful pre-offseason time is not a phenomenon unique to the Blazers; there's a handful of teams around the league, as a matter of fact, reflecting on a first-round exit and pondering the summer that lies ahead. So it's fitting that the biggest story in Portland this time of year involves an impending showdown with another first-round knockout. I refer, of course, to the San Antonio Spurs' likely pursuit of LaMarcus Aldridge, which may well begin at midnight on the 1st.

And it's even more fitting that this week, a third early playoff knockout found a way to enter the conversation. This came in the form of a 1,500-word opus published Tuesday by Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher, which carried the headline "Mavericks, Not Spurs, Could Be the Texas Team to Lure LaMarcus Aldridge Away." It's apparently now a three-horse race between Portland, San Antonio and Dallas for the services of the Blazers' current franchise player.

The language is murky, and the sourcing is suspect, but there are a few pointed sentences that reveal details about the Mavs' potential pursuit of LMA next month. Early in the piece, Bucher writes this:

"A source familiar with Aldridge's thinking said several weeks ago that the about-to-be 30-year-old power forward was aggressively exploring options other than returning to Portland. Indeed, he moved out of the house he rented from former Blazer Damon Stoudamire, and it is up for sale."

He later follows up with this:

"Aldridge isn't feeling the same way he did last summer when he publicly stated his intention of signing an extension with the Blazers this summer."

And he shortly thereafter adds this:

"Of his potential suitors, league sources indicate that the Mavericks are the biggest threat to pull Aldridge away from the Blazers, but it's the general idea of returning to Texas, not a specific destination, that appeals to him."


I get why pieces like this get published. Again, nine weeks between season's end and free agency is a really long time, and it's a reporter's job to dig around, find things to report and report them. If you don't have anything substantive (and this time of year, you're not supposed to, because it would be tampering for the Mavericks to say anything on the record), then you do the best you can with the scraps you have. Even if you think Bucher's article isn't very good (and I'd agree with you), you have to admit - the man's just doing his job.

Let's dig into the details, though. What specifically is wrong with this piece?

There are a lot of things you could point to. First and foremost: The simple fact that Aldridge is exploring options is not news. Aldridge is a free agent. Free agents, by definition, are people with the free reign to choose any of the NBA's 30 teams as their next employer. Aldridge would be a fool not to explore his options. He's "aggressively" exploring his options, you say? Perhaps that's your read, but it's still early June and the rules forbid the man from negotiating with other teams. I'm not sure how aggressive he could be, aside from looking into things like real estate. And by the way, buying and selling houses doesn't convince me of much. Aldridge has made $70 million in his career, and real estate's a great investment. Again, he'd be a fool not to make the occasional deal.

Aside from the bizarre non-news nut graf, all the surrounding points are phrased in the most tepid, uncertain way possible. Eleven of Bucher's sentences - 11! - end in question marks. I mean, get a load of this paragraph:

"Will the frustration of having only made it past the first round of the playoffs once in five tries with the Blazers, the only team he's ever known, prompt him to see if his fortunes are better with, say, the perennially title-contending Spurs? Would the lure of joining forces again with his close friend and fellow Texan, Mavericks assistant coach Kaleb Canales, pull him in that direction? Or would being the undisputed centerpiece of an up-and-coming team such as the Celtics in the easier-to-navigate East appeal to him?"

I don't know the answers to any of these questions, and it appears Bucher doesn't either. Yet the way the article is positioned - bold, attention-grabbing headline, followed by an introductory paragraph that claims to read Aldridge's soul and sense "jealousy, disappointment, loyalty and fear" - makes it sound like definitive knowledge is forthcoming. It isn't. It's impossible to report on June 9 where LaMarcus Aldridge is going because no one knows on June 9. Not even Aldridge himself.

It makes you wonder - given how premature this whole Aldridge discussion is, and how unknowable the answer is at this juncture, what's the angle here? Why write a story like this? What's to be gained?

Here's one possible answer: This article, and articles like it, exist because that's the game. It's the nature of the business. Sometimes, reporters report on certain stories not out of a burning desire to find the truth and deliver it accurately, but to adopt a contrarian viewpoint for the benefit of a source.

I'll give another example, unrelated to this Aldridge storyline. Last summer, a couple days before free agency was set to begin, Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski published a lengthy column about the Phoenix Suns' pursuit of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. Here's the key paragraph:

"Phoenix is determined to emerge as a legitimate destination for James and Anthony, who have privately shared an affinity for playing with each other in the NBA. Salary-cap structures make it prohibitive for teams elsewhere to fit these two stars together without completely gutting a roster, but Phoenix's general manager Ryan McDonough has constructed a far different reality to sell them in potential meetings next week, league sources told Yahoo Sports."

Truthfully, Phoenix was never a major contender to land LeBron. All along, LeBron was either going to stay in Miami, where he'd won four conference titles and two rings, or return to Cleveland, his beloved hometown. There was no other option. Woj likely knew this, but he reported on the Phoenix "story" anyway, and it's not hard to guess why - his "league sources" were probably led by Ryan McDonough himself, and publishing the McDonough puff piece was a great way to get on the GM's good side and cultivate him as a source for other, more substantive stories later. When you're in the business of gathering intel, it always helps to have a team executive owe you a favor.

I'm not saying, necessarily, that that's what's happening here with Bucher and the Mavs, but it would certainly make sense, wouldn't it? Think about it - how else could a story like this materialize? Reporters don't dig up nuggets like "the Mavericks appeal to Aldridge" simply through a wizard-like ability to read people's minds. When they learn things, it's because people share them for a reason. If anyone tells Ric Bucher that Dallas is tempting to LaMarcus Aldridge, it's because they have a motive to do so. Maybe Bucher's anonymous source here is someone really close, like his agent or his mom; but maybe, just maybe, it's someone like a distant friend back in Texas with Mavs season tickets.

Of course, we can never know. This is not a Ric Bucher problem - it's an NBA problem. Pretty much nothing gets reported in this league without anonymous sources. Team personnel expect to be granted the freedom to say whatever they want without putting their names on it, and the reporters aren't in any position to say no. They need to find dirt so they can write the big, flashy stories that will get the clicks. This is the way the system works, and it's hard to envision any way that changes.

Back to Aldridge and the Mavs - there are a lot of unanswered questions about how such a signing would work, hypothetically, were it to happen. Most obviously, you have to reconcile the Aldridge chase with the fact that Dallas has already committed $8.3 million of next year's cap to paying Dirk Nowitzki, a man who plays the same position and does a lot of the same things Aldridge does. They're both conventional power forwards on the defensive end, and on offense, they both provide a bit of floor-stretching by mixing in a reliable 18-foot jumper along with the usual post touches.

When you have two superstars at once who both fill the exact same role, how do you swing that? If you play both guys together, you've got to get real creative. Can you move Aldridge to center? That's not ideal - he hates banging in the low post with 270-pound dudes. Can you put Dirk at the three? Not likely to work either. Imagine him on defense - he'll get burned every time. So then... what? Do you use Dirk and LMA separately? There are only 48 minutes in a game. Do you give LaMarcus 30 of them and Dirk the other 18? Yuck. And even if you do, is that the most efficient use of the Mavs' money? They've got to roll with the punches this summer as they lose Tyson Chandler, Rajon Rondo and maybe Monta Ellis too. Is pursuing a second power forward really a top priority?

These are the types of issues you need to dig into. In theory, it's what journalism is supposed to be - you explore into the issues with a critical eye, and when a tough question presents itself, you ask it and you keep asking until you get an answer. Sadly, that's not the kind of journalism we get when it comes to NBA free agency - especially when it's still only the second week in June. Instead, we have to settle for speculative stories that ask more questions than they answer.

In closing: Let's all remain calm. Every piece of NBA reporting must be taken with a grain of salt, and that's doubly true when it comes to free agent stories in June. No news is good news, and no news is bad news. There is no news at all, and there won't be for another three weeks to come. Sit tight.