Free agent forward LaMarcus Aldridge has signed a four-year deal with the San Antonio Spurs. As fans of the Portland Trail Blazers now mourn over the loss of their franchise's best player, more questions remain to be answered. These include how the Blazers got to that juncture, when they knew Aldridge was leaving, and why.
This story will certainly develop as time marches on. Today Blazer's Edge has reached out to sources familiar with the situation to try and put together a few missing pieces of the puzzle.
When the Blazers Knew Aldridge Was Leaving for Sure
One source with knowledge of the situation shares the messages coming from Portland's front office as the season came to a close.
For most of the season, they talked like they thought they could get him. They showed confidence. But it started to come out in Memphis series. The underneath tension showed. [Aldridge] didn't look like he wanted to be there.
The situation evolved as the weeks passed. A rival executive explained that in the course of talks to trade Nicolas Batum prior to the draft, Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey was asked why he was making the move. As part of the explanation, Olshey termed the chances of keeping Aldridge as "50-50", citing a need for flexibility. From that transition in message league insiders drew the conclusion that the odds of Aldridge leaving were "more like 90-10".
The original source offers:
Once the Batum trade happened, everybody knew.
The Draft Night Press Conference
One of the more memorable moments of the transition from Draft Night to Free Agency was Olshey's post-draft press conference. It had been preceded by reports from ESPN that Aldridge was "99.9% certain to leave" followed by an article by Erik Gundersen of The Columbian that Aldridge had already informed the Blazers that he wouldn't return.
During the presser, Olshey fired back in fierce denial, saying:
I spoke with LaMarcus... I actually asked him, "how would you like me to address this?" And he said, "Just say it's not true. You and I know where we are right now." It was misreported. It's not true. I can tell you he has not informed anybody in this organization of his intention not to return to the team.
How much of this was true? According to our source, some...depending on perspective.
Both sides knew at that point that Aldridge was gone. Olshey was painted into a corner, having to defend something that he couldn't tell the whole story about.
The source also shed some light on official procedure.
Usually if you're a pro about it, you place a phone call to the team you're leaving first then you call the other team and accept. Olshey hadn't received that official phone call.
As expected, the assertion that Aldridge "hadn't told them" was technically true. But the claim that Aldridge hadn't let them know and that he wasn't 99.9% gone were on less solid ground. If the Blazers didn't know, plenty of others did.
The press-conference inferences that Olshey and Aldridge were tight and talking may have been overstated.
They didn't have a lot of meaningful conversation. If they did, Aldridge wasn't telling them anything.
This brings Olshey's press conference claim that Aldridge had told him, "You and I know where we are right now" into an ironic light. If there was certainty, it was the certainty that Aldridge was gone. Otherwise the Blazers did not, in fact, know where they were with Aldridge. This was one of at least two occasions of wishful thinking on Portland's part during this phase.
Left to shoot in the dark, the Blazers publicized an alternate plan to attract Aldridge, a "Plan A" that combined their power forward with Detroit free agent Greg Monroe.
People were chuckling at that idea, and how quickly he ended up in Milwaukee.
Note also that at this time Portland Trail Blazers assistant coach Kim Hughes appeared in a television interview stating that the franchise "lost Aldridge" and "was going young". There seems little question now that both were fairly well known in the front office at that point...that although they may have hoped that Aldridge would change his mind, they knew he was leaving and were preparing for it. It's worth noting that both assertions made by Hughes turned out to be true. It's also worth noting that the Trail Blazers fired him today for sharing them.
The "Fade Away"
Communication didn't improve much as free agency progressed. Though Damian Lillard was cited as a potential rescuer, he didn't have a close relationship or ongoing communication with Aldridge up until the last, ballyhooed trip that turned into a phone call.
Be that as it may, there was no dramatic break-up, no confrontation or pleading. It was the classic relationship "fade-away".
It was sort of like LeBron in 2010.
The citation is the famous "Decision" wherein LeBron James famously didn't talk to the Cleveland Cavaliers or return their overtures until the moment of truth, announcing on television that he was departing for the Miami Heat...in effect dumping them.
The take-aways here are complex. Many of the debates surrounding Portland's actions have centered around how much they knew about Aldridge and when. It appears that they didn't get official word--or much word at all--until the very end but that they had evidence long before that. It also appears that lack of communication and close relationships ended up costing the Blazers in the end. If it didn't make them lose Aldridge outright, it cost them the chance to compensate for his loss sooner, and perhaps better.