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LaMarcus Aldridge Leaves Trail Blazers to Join Spurs

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Portland loses its prime free agent and the best player the franchise has seen in decades.

Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

After 9 seasons, 4 All-Star appearances, 22972 minutes played, 12562 points scored, and nearly 400 wins contributed to, LaMarcus Aldridge is no longer a member of the Portland Trail Blazers.

Adrian Wojnarowski of YahooSports has announced that Aldridge has come to an agreement with the San Antonio Spurs.

Aldridge became a free agent this summer after failing to negotiate an extension with the Trail Blazers in 2014. At the time Aldridge indicated that the lack of an agreement was about making the best financial deal and that his loyalty to the Blazers remained undiminished.

Aldridge said it makes most sense financially to wait because he can sign for more years (5) and make more money ($108 million) next year.

Aldridge: "I'm happy to stay (in Portland), happy to be here, happy with the direction the team has gone the last year or 2. But I just want to get a 5-year deal. I feel like that's the best decision on my part."

Aldridge said he wants to finish his career in Portland. One reason why: "I want to be the best Blazer. Ever."

He would proceed to post one of the best seasons of his NBA career, averaging 23.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game with career-highs in scoring, three-point percentage, and PER. He appeared in 71 games during the 2014-15 regular season with an additional 5 in the post-season, famously playing through damaged thumb ligaments to lead his squad to the best record possible in a season he termed "special".

The Blazers were humbled in their first-round playoff series with the Memphis Grizzlies, a team they faced 9 times in 5 months, winning but once. Aldridge proved almost completely ineffective in the matchup, shooting 33%, finding success on the glass but nowhere else. As the series wound to a close, Aldridge's body language became dispirited. Some speculated fatigue and lingering pain from injury as causes, others wondered if he knew his time in Portland was winding to a close.

When the off-season commenced, Portland's lineup underwent a major change as the Blazers traded long-time forward Nicolas Batum to the Charlotte Hornets for shooting guard Gerald Henderson and power forward Noah Vonleh. It was an early announcement that sticking with the status quo was not in Portland's plans. Neither Vonleh nor Henderson projected as a good fit with a win-now, Aldridge-led lineup, Vonleh because of his tender age and Henderson because of his disposable, short-term contract.

The Blazers made another trade on draft night, exchanging 23rd pick Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and veteran point guard Steve Blake with the Brooklyn Nets, bringing on center Mason Plumlee and second-round pick Pat Connaughton. The addition of Plumlee gave the Blazers more depth at center but his age (25) and inexperience (2 seasons) pegged him as a long-term plan rather than a short-term roster boost. If the Blazers were building around Aldridge in order to convince him to stay in free agency, they had a funny way of showing it.

Two draft-day reports threw Aldridge's future in Portland into further doubt. ESPN writers Marc Stein and Chris Broussard cited sources claiming Aldridge was "99.9% certain to leave". Erik Gundersen of The Columbian reported that Aldridge had already informed the Blazers that he wouldn't return. In his post-draft press conference Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey fired back vociferously at these claims. Jason Quick of the Oregonian took to the airwaves that evening and the next day to defend Olshey, citing numerous sources that claimed Aldridge had not informed the Blazers of a decision. Portland fans took this as a sign of hope.

That hope would be bolstered a couple days later when Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski gave a television interview saying that despite the long line of suitors at his door, Aldridge's choice boiled down to the front-running Spurs and the incumbent Trail Blazers.

But even then, questions arose. Wojnarowski's claim referenced the 5th year of a max-level contract that the Trail Blazers could offer but nobody else could. It amounted to $27 million more on the table. But that $27 million required an extra year of service compared to the 4-year, $80 million max offer that other teams would make. With the NBA salary cap due to rise precipitously over the next two seasons due to increased broadcast revenue, any team that signed Aldridge would have the ability to equal Portland's financial inducement given a 5th year to do so.

Hope survived through a first-minute-of-free-agency meeting between Aldridge and the Los Angeles Lakers, who sent Kobe Bryant to woo Aldridge to their cause. Aldridge also met with other teams. In the end, the Spurs proved too much to resist. Clearing cap room for an offer by trading Tiago Splitter and securing the roster around Aldridge by re-signing Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green left San Antonio in advantageous position. Aldridge originally hailing from Texas--with family in San Antonio proper--helped seal the deal.

LaMarcus Aldridge is now a Spur.

The Trail Blazers will have plenty of questions to answer in the coming weeks: how they'll cope with losing their best player, how they let him get away without compensation, what the offensive attack will look like without its heart, how team chemistry will evolve without Aldridge's veteran voice providing stability. First, though, the Blazers and their fans will need to get used to the idea of life without one of the best players to ever put on a scarlet and black uniform.

An era that began in 2006 when Portland drafted Aldridge and Brandon Roy in tandem has now come to a close. It bore none of the once-promised championship fruit; its winning legacy amounted to a single, miraculous playoff series victory over a 9-year stretch. But the quality of play from Portland's stars during this decade--and from Aldridge in particular--left a mark on the franchise that transcends wins and losses.

Adlridge Rankings

Updates:

Aldridge tweets:

More from Wojnarowski:

Contract details:

(That option would come in the fourth year of the deal.)

Trail Blazers spinning hypotheticals for their fans to latch onto:

One of Aldridge's new teammates weighs in:

And now the Spurs are just being totally unfair:

On Pops:

More on the process...

Former CSNNW correspondent Chris Haynes offers this view:

--Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @DaveDeckard@Blazersedge