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LaMarcus Aldridge, Money, and Happiness: What Goes Into a Free Agent Decision?

Why isn't Aldridge just signing for the most money and calling it a day? Here are a couple potential reasons.

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports


Why doesn't [LaMarcus] Aldridge just take the most money he can get from the Blazers and call it good?  I hear numbers like $20-$40 million more that we can offer and I don't understand how anybody would turn it down.  It seems clear to me.  I'd take it.  Why are we even having this discussion or does he hate Portland that much?


As far as I know, LaMarcus Aldridge's free agency decision has nothing to do with hating Portland. He may have frustrations with the town or franchise but who doesn't when you work in the same place for 9 years straight?

But even if you just consider the money angle, things aren't quite as clear cut as you paint them.

It's true that the Blazers can offer more money than any other team when you compare any two apples-to-apples situations. But Aldridge isn't limited to just apples. Another team's orange (differently structured contract) can get pretty close to Portland's apple. Aldridge isn't just comparing a couple offers, but a virtual cornucopia.

Let's consider the max offer that Aldridge could take in one swoop right now. Other teams can offer 4 years for around $80 million. The Blazers can offer 5 years for around $108 million. That's a difference of $28 million in favor of the Blazers, which is huge. But notice the difference requires an extra year of service to Portland. If you factor in a prospective 5th year from another team (after his current contract expires) Aldridge would make over $110 million in that city too.

Now let's imagine another team offers him a 2-year deal at around $38 million, after which he'd re-sign. He'd be under special "Early Bird" rules, which would limit his raises to 150% of his former salary. But that still ends up being 150% of around 19 million, which puts his rake over the next 3 years between $28-29 million per season. With raises his 5-year take now stands over $125 million, not the $108 million the Blazers could offer right now.

But Portland can come back and offer a 1-year deal followed by a max-resigning with full Bird Rights for 35% of the 2016 salary cap. Now we're around the $150 million mark over the next 5 years.

Just in these brief, spitball examples we've set out a buffet of $80 million, $108 million, $110+ million, $125 million, and $150 million...and we could even put another year on that last Portland offer and push it above $180 million. Head spinning yet with the choices? Aldridge's may be too.

Portland always ends up with the top number in a given scenario, but understand that Aldridge can choose any of these levels to buy in on and he doesn't have to choose Portland in order to get some of them. If he wants to view an orange (county?) offer as equivalent to the Trail Blazers' apple because the dollar difference is only a few million and the risk doesn't seem that great to him, that's within his prerogatives.

A "Clear-cut" decision would be Portland being able to guarantee Aldridge a $108 million, 5-year deal right now and other teams only able to guarantee 4 years at $80 million with no reasonable expectation that the 5th year of service to them would push him past the $108 million that the Blazers were offering. That's how it's worked every season CBA up until this very moment, which is why these decisions have been more obvious. But new TV money will soon push the salary cap--and the willingness of teams to pay star players--far higher than it's been heretofore. $80 million vs. $108 million aren't the only choices anymore, just two of many. It's a great time to be a free agent, not so great if you're trying to retain one.

We also have to understand that finances aren't just about math and ledgers. Numbers in a bank account quantify wealth in easily-defined terms, but perception of wealth is far more complex and personal.

When you say, "There's no way I'd turn down an extra $20-40 million! This is simple!" you're speaking from your own reality. If you're like most of us, you're lucky to have a bank account that reads 5 digits before the decimal point hits. If somebody offered you $20 million you'd jump in the air twice, fall to the floor, pee your pants, and scream. Then when you realized you just messed up your floor you'd say, "Screw it!" and buy yourself not just a new pair of jeans, but a new house to go around them. And no wonder! That amount would represent 1000 times your current savings.

LaMarcus Aldridge has made $70 million already in his 9-year career. He has a reasonable expectation of making at least $110 million more over the next 5 years alone. $20 million represents a smaller percentage of his earnings than yours. It may or may not be the same kind of obvious inducement to him that it is to you.

People view money differently. I don't presume to know how Aldridge views it. For most of us, though, wealth reaches a point of diminishing returns. Once we have our basic needs met, a few desires granted, and feel reasonably secure in our future, financial concerns become subordinate to happiness.

When you have nothing, you'll take $20 million over anything else that makes you happy because you figure you can buy a ton of other things that make you happy with that money. Whatever you're missing, you just purchase something to substitute for it. When you have $180 million you've already purchased most of the things that money can buy. You start weighing other types of happiness against the utility of $20 million more and find that decision isn't a simple as it used to be.

If someone offered me $500,000 a year to write in State A and $1 million a year to write in State B, I'd almost certainly take the million dollar offer no matter what I thought of the two states. I'd figure I couldn't make up that much money any other way.

Change those offers to $5 million a year versus $7 million and I look at the issue in a new light. If State A had better craft beer, if I were closer to my family, if I had my eye on a little house at the beach, if my spouse had a strong preference, I'd probably take the $2 million hit to live in State A.

Financially this make no sense. Over a 5-year period I'd be losing $10 million in the second scenario, which is twice as much as I'd even make in the first one. But I'd be comfortable with it because anything I really wanted to buy would be covered by $5 mil as easily as $7 mil, plus I'd be surrounded by readily-available beer choices, live closer to my family, and have a happy spouse.

If you doubt me, I sincerely invite you to try making these offers to me. (My e-mail is I'll be ecstatic to demonstrate how it works in real time. There's a nice place in Neskowin that was for sale the last time I was down there and for $5 million annually I can begin writing right away.

Again, though, we don't know what Aldridge is thinking. He may be the type that prizes every penny over other concerns. If so, that's good news for Portland.


If LaMarcus leaves I'm calling him disloyal. I know you're gonna disagree with me but seriously won't you feel just a little burn? How about if he goes to the L*kers? I'm ready to boo him out of the building. After 9 years with the team that drafted you, you don't do that!


Yeah, I'm gonna disagree with you. And yeah, even if it's the Lakers.

I'm going to disagree with you because of what I just explained. Nobody can tell Aldridge what it means to be happy and nobody has the right to take away his pursuit of that happiness. Even if he makes decisions with different priorities than I would, he's allowed. If he leaves, I'll be glad in a way that he's not simply pursuing the biggest paycheck. I suspect his life will end up better that way.

LaMarcus Aldridge has done everything he's contractually obligated to do for the Portland Trail Blazers and he's done it well. The city and the franchise owe him nothing but thanks. If he signs up to do it for another 5 years, that's great. Then new expectations can take hold. But if he doesn't, nothing more is owed or should be expected. He has the right to make that choice. It's neither disloyal nor worthy of reprimand.

If Aldridge remains with the Blazers and his stats fall to 9 ppg on 28% shooting, I will also defend your right to talk about trading him. That's how the game works. When a player is under contract to your team you have the right to speak about him as a player and consider him solely in basketball terms (as long as you don't deny or overshadow his humanity while doing so). This is what he gets paid for. When that contract is done, he gets to be a real person again and make his own choices. You don't have to like those choices, but he doesn't owe his entire life to you just because he signed a contract with your team once.

Do I hope Aldridge returns to the Trail Blazers? Yes. Do I want him to sacrifice his own happiness and perceived career/life path in order to make Blazer fans happy? No. It'll be far easier for Portland to find another player to love and obsess over than it'll be for Aldridge to get a new life.


More free agency talk is coming tomorrow. Send your Mailbag questions to

--Dave / @DaveDeckard@Blazersedge