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How LaMarcus Aldridge Influences the Fate of His Teammates

If the Blazers aren't sure what LaMarcus Aldridge will do this summer, how do they regard Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez? We give you the options.

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Mr. David,

Many people say the best option for LaMarcus Aldridge is to sign a short deal (1-2 yrs) and max out his contract when the cap goes up. If that happens what do the Blazers do with Wes Matthews and Robin Lopez? Will they sign similar deals?


I see where you're going with this. One of the nightmare scenarios for Portland would be spending a cap-clogging bundle on all the players that go around LaMarcus Aldridge and then losing Aldridge to free agency. It'd be like going to a swanky restaurant, plopping down $80 on a Prime Rib entree, then getting everything served to you except the prime rib.

Fortunately the risk is small. Unless he wants to throw financial considerations to the wind, Aldridge's ability to move to another team hinges on that team being able to earn Bird Rights. That's the cap exception that allows a team to re-sign its own free agents regardless of cap considerations. With Bird Rights, a team can sign their own free agent to a $30 million max contract even if it takes them over the cap threshold. Without Bird Rights that same team would need to clear $30 million under the cap to offer the same contract. Considering Aldridge would be moving to a contender (if he moved), clearing that much cap space isn't practical. No Bird Rights equals no ability to keep Aldridge long-term.

There are nuances, but basically a team gains Bird Rights when a player has served them for 3 seasons. Bird Rights accompany a player when he's traded. The Blazers hold Aldridge's Bird Rights today because he's been with the team forever. Had they traded him last year, the team he went to would now hold his Bird Rights, as those rights would have traveled with him in his suitcase.

When a player hits free agency and signs with a different team, however, the clock resets on his Bird Rights. If Free Agent Aldridge signs with the Spurs this year, his Bird Rights do not head to San Antonio with him. He'd need to serve 3 years with the San Antonio (or with them and any team they subsequently traded him to) in order for the provision to work for him again.

There's also a lower-level exception called "Early Bird" that requires only 2 years of service to kick in. It doesn't allow the maximum contract offer, but 150% of the player's current contract. Considering the money Aldridge will make as a free agent this summer, that's still a metric crap-ton.

Here's what you need to know: if Aldridge moves teams he doesn't get paid huge in Year 1 of his new contract. He doesn't get paid huge in Year 2 of his contract. It'll take until Year 3 (at least) before any kind of Bird Rights kick in and his new team can offer him astonishing money.

Aldridge will turn 30 in July. There's a limit to how many years he can wait to sign that mega-deal. After a certain age he can't reasonably expect to command $30 million per year salaries. That age isn't here yet, but it's looming. Bird Rights won't matter if he's too old to convince his team to pay him that much money in the first place.

If Aldridge has to wait 2-3 years after a new deal to make bank and he leaves today, he'll be 32 or 33 when the big money time comes. If he signs a 1-2 year deal with Portland before making that move, he'll be 33-35. We're starting to get on shaky ground here age-wise. Plus it's doubtful Aldridge or his agent would settle for making less-than-max money for the next 3-4 seasons hoping to get great money after. He'll want to get to the great money as soon as possible.

If Aldridge signs a 1-2 year deal with the Blazers, odds are good that he'll remain a Blazer. He's waiting to take advantage of Portland's Bird Rights when the salary cap rises. There will be no waiting period, no 2-3 more years of service needed. As soon as the cap balloons from the new TV money...boom. Aldridge has his obnoxiously big max contract from Portland.

If Aldridge is going to move to another team, he needs to go now so that he can begin earning years of service towards his Bird Rights there. Every year he waits is another year of potential earnings wasted.

Either way, the Blazers now know how to regard Matthews and Lopez because they know what Aldridge is doing.

The one potential loophole is Aldridge signing a 1-year deal with Portland and then heading off to another team whose cap space suddenly bloomed due to the new TV deal in 2016. But even this is easy to compensate for, providing you can talk Matthews and Lopez into it. Neither is in a position to command a mega-deal themselves. Matthews is coming off a serious injury and Lopez isn't that type of player. The Blazers might be able to convince them to sign 2-year deals above their current market value. With all the starters returning, the Blazers wouldn't have cap space to spend on free agents anyway. Paying Matthews and Lopez a little extra to accept a short-term deal wouldn't impact Portland's ledger a bit. Meanwhile Matthews and Lopez would make a nice chunk of change and become free agents again after the cap had risen. It's a win-win deal.

This plan also provides a safeguard against disaster. If Aldridge does leave after a year, the Blazers are on the hook with Wes and Robin for only one season after. If Aldridge re-ups with Portland, the Blazers can still make Lopez and Matthews a better offer than anybody else when they become free agents again, signing them to a longer-term deal then.

After all that explanation, it turns out Portland's decision about Matthews and Lopez is pretty straightforward, hinging completely on Aldridge's actions.

--If Aldridge signs a long-term max deal this summer the Blazers sew up the players around him too.

--If Aldridge hedges his bets with a 1-2 year deal Portland can be pretty comfortable that he's staying. But just in case signing Matthews and Lopez to 2-year deals would be prudent, even if it takes slightly more than market value to convince them to sign.

--If Aldridge leaves the Blazers are free to let Matthews and Lopez go as well. They'd be starting over with a core of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Meyers Leonard. Alternately they could retain one of the pair and chase free agents with the savings from the other.

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--Dave / @DaveDeckard@Blazersedge