LaMarcus Aldridge is on track to be a stud power forward for the Portland Trailblazers for many years to come.
He has shown the ability for the occasional spectacular blocked shot or key steal at the defensive end, averages a respectable number of rebounds on a poor rebounding team, has a nice medium range jumper to go with a developing post game, and is willing to run the floor when the opportunity presents itself.
It would seem he has a huge upside in the near future, especially if Greg Oden is anywhere near the power house center he is projected to be.
If Oden comes in and creates the defensive havoc he is expected to, it gives Aldridge more freedom in his defensive efforts. If Oden commands double teams in the low post, it will allow Aldridge more open looks. When he is hitting his turn-arounds, he can be deadly.
With continued development and with a more offensive minded center than Joel Przybilla, Aldridge could easily turn into an All-Star in another year or two.
Even in the unlikely scenario that Oden proves to be a bust, due to injury or inability to pick up the pro game, Aldridge will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. He has shown new moves in recent games, developed the ability to score with his left hand, and in general, has become more dangerous offensively even at this late stage of the season.
It all goes back to his attitude towards working out and improving.
A prime example was provided early in the season. Aldridge had a number of good looks at the basket from the low post. Again and again he shook his defender, rose up and...well, frankly, threw up bricks.
He looked like a cement mason out there. Mothers were pulling their children out of the first few rows so they did not get cannonballed by unguided missiles off of Aldridge's hands. A lot of young players would have been discouraged by that and the experience would have caused them issues.
Instead, Aldridge was found on the practice court immediately after the game working on the very shots he had struggled with all night. He soon corrected them and had several good games where that shot was almost automatic. That is the sort of attitude and dedication that ensures long-term improvement and a productive career.
Only one thing could slow him down at this point and that would be an injury. Aldridge already missed several games earlier this season when struggling with plantar fasciitis, which continues to plague him.
The Blazers have had an excellent run this season. They have exceeded the expectations of all but the most optimistic of their fans. They have maintained a record above .500 ever since the December 13th game win streak. They have beaten good teams and maintained a definitive home court advantage.
Yet, a few realities remain. As good as their season has been, they are still going to be on the outside looking in when the playoffs begin. There are simply too many excellent teams in the Western Conference so a team that is merely good or even merely average is not going to get in.
Failure to make the playoffs might be a blessing in disguise.
Any success in the playoffs would be a huge upset. A young team would have to win on the road in the playoffs against, frankly, better teams than themselves. Highly unlikely.
Even if they somehow squeezed into the playoffs and pulled off the improbable first round upset, they would not get past the second round. Some people might argue that playoffs experience would be invaluable. Personally, I prefer the better pick they are likely to end up with.
How does the plantar fasciitis relate to the Blazers' playoff situation?
I would argue it's time for Aldridge to shut it down for this season. The methods for treating this painful condition primarily revolve around staying off the foot. Aldridge has plantar fasciitis. As recently as the Golden State game on March 2nd, he was telling an interviewer how difficult the third quarters were for him because of the extra stretching he had to do.
Now, I respect his desire to play, his willingness to sacrifice his long-term mobility in the interests of a potential long-shot playoff run for this year. However, at some point, reality needs to set in.
Portland needs Aldridge. But they need him for the next 10-12 years, not just this season. They need him healthy and productive.
Speaking from a fan's perspective, I would much rather have Aldridge shut it down for this season, give his foot some time to heal, have a trainer restructure his peculiar gait, and get ready for both next year and the one after, when Portland will be a threat to not only make the playoffs but perhaps even do some damage.
Portland with Aldridge is going to be a game or two, either way, from the .500 mark for this season. That is about their level of play. They are going to win two out of three games at home and lose the same number on the road. That is the cold, hard reality.
Portland without Aldridge will lose three to five additional games.
In the short term, sure, that will be hard for the team and the fans. But in the long run, it might actually be a good thing. Those losses will translate to a slightly higher draft pick. Next season, Portland has something like 14 players under contract. They will be getting a decent pick but their roster will not stay the same.
The Blazers are going to have too many players in the front court next year.
At center, they will have Oden and Przybilla. At forward they will have Channing Frye, Aldridge, and Travis Outlaw who can play the power forward, Outlaw, Martell Webster, James Jones, and Brandon Roy who can play the small forward, and Jones, Roy, Jarrett Jack at the shooting guard.
That is a lot of flexibility...but a lot of overkill as well. It would make more sense to package some of the overflow players and utilize a good draft pick in order to pick up a veteran presence for a run at the playoffs. The deal would only get sweeter with a better pick, which they'd get if Aldridge didn't play the rest of the season.
The only reason it makes sense is the potential long-term benefits to Aldridge if he can rest his foot, find a solution to the problems, and come back healthy.
He is too competitive and dedicated a player to stop playing on his own. This is a good opportunity for Portland to play their best, win as much as they can, yet still lose a bit in the short term for long term benefits. It is a tough call.
How do you ask a team to sacrifice the best year possible?
You certainly do not want to lay down and quit as some teams have done in the past. But if you can help a player's career and unintentionally yet intentionally benefit the organization by doing so...maybe the organization needs to step in and put him on the pine for the remainder of the year. I would hate to see that happen, but it might be wise.