The offseason just started and we have already been inundated with the whole “where will Kevin Love be traded” talks, and frankly if he’s still in Minnesota when the regular season starts there’s no way it’s not a distraction for the team and organization.
I bring this up, because I can see the same types of conversation happening for LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trail Blazers as we approach next season’s trade deadline. If Aldridge is not traded by the deadline — which I presume will not happen — then the talks will continue into the offseason until such a time that Aldridge re-signs, is traded, or leaves via free agency.
Why the doom and gloom? LaMarcus is entering the final year of a five-year, $62.5 million deal and could leave via free agency if he so desires at the end of the 2014-15 season.
Why would he leave when the Blazers just won 54 games, you ask? Don’t forget that just last summer it was Aldridge who was demanding to be traded due to a dismal 33 win season in 2012-13, so it cannot be a foregone conclusion that Aldridge will stay with Portland even given the recent success.
Well, maybe Aldridge should just lay all this talk to rest and sign an extension with Portland, right? Wrong. I mean, he could in theory do just that but he would stand to lose out on some dough.
The way the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is currently set up, Aldridge stands to sign a much more lucrative deal if he waits and becomes a free agent after the 2014-15 season.
For example, if he were to sign an extension after July 1, then the most he could sign for would be a three-year, $55.5 million deal — not too shabby raking in $18.5 million per season over that span.
However, if he tests the market and becomes a free agent then LMA could potentially sign for a maximum deal of five years, $127.3 million; quite the difference in both length and amount.
So, as you can see there really isn’t a reason for Aldridge to sign an extension and by merely becoming a free agent, Aldridge is not saying that he doesn’t want to be in Portland — he is simply saying he wants a bigger payday.
There are certainly risks in this strategy as well, however.
The first issue is one that I alluded to with Kevin Love; this will hang over the Blazers’ season in its entirety and will almost assuredly become an unnecessary distraction for this young, ascending team.
Just imagine a five-game stretch in January where Portland loses all five games and in the postgame press conference someone asks Damian Lillard, “Hey Damian given the team’s recent struggles do you think LaMarcus is playing with one foot out the door already?”
If that’s not a distraction that can divide a team, I don’t know what is.
The other issue here is that Aldridge could get hurt and thus lose out on his big payday. Aldridge turns 29 this offseason and this stands to be his one huge payday in his career, so a major injury could certainly derail those plans.
Fortunately, LMA does not have a history of injury, unlike some of the other bigs in our league. Since becoming the full-time starter at power forward in his second year in the league Aldridge has never played all 82 games in a season, however he has only missed 33 games over that seven-year span, which comes out to an average of five games missed per year.
I think this coming season will have a lot to do with Aldridge’s decision moving forward. It’s hard to call a 54-win team a fluke, but if Portland reverts back to recent struggles, or has a big slide, or misses the playoffs you never know what could happen. I seriously don’t see them entertaining the idea of trading him at the deadline next season, but the just the thought looming over the team will be enough to cause some distress.
How fitting would it be, however, for Aldridge to leave a franchise and fan base that has only recently really taken him in as the start that he is, and shown their appreciation. Will he scorn them and sign elsewhere, or is he merely being strategic in order to get more zeros on that check — I’m hoping for the latter but time will ultimately tell all.