LaMarcus Aldridge is set to become a free agent in 2015, and if anybody is going to convince him to stay, it just might be Rip City’s point guard of the future, Damian Lillard.
Aldridge's free agency might seem light years away, but there’s a very real chance that the All-Star will search for another squad if the Portland Trail Blazers can’t contend in a tough Western Conference.
In today’s star-driven league, the NBA is full of super teams, and the best way to keep any superstar around—Aldridge included—is to surround him with talent.
The Trail Blazers, like the Cavs, don’t have the luxury of being in a big market with warm weather. They've struggled for decades to acquire top-tier free agents, and while that trend has begun turning the past few years, they’re still nowhere near as desirable as the NBA’s best locations.
If this team is going to have another superstar in the next three seasons, it’s going to be Lillard.
The Blazers are in rebuilding mode, and with so many young players on board next year, the team's ceiling appears to go only as high as Lillard will take them.
The 22-year-old enters the league with concerns surrounding his style of play and level of competition, but if he can answer the questions early, he'll have the ability to become one of the best scoring point guards that the game has to offer.
With incredible athleticism, Lillard has the physical qualities to someday resemble top-tier point guards like Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose.
The biggest difference?
Lillard's shot is far superior.
If Lillard's athleticism doesn’t translate to the next level, he has his deep-range game and incredible motor to fall back on.
If it does, and he proves to be just as explosive as he was at Weber State, his shot will create for a diverse skill set that not even Rose and Westbrook have at this point in their careers.
The prospect has the potential to be great, and if that greatness comes to surface, expect the whole organization to flourish—especially Aldridge.
Lillard's Impact on Aldridge
As if the rookie doesn’t have enough pressure on him already, Lillard's growth and development could directly affect Aldridge’s decision to stay or go.
Lillard is touted as a pure scorer in many circles, but his pick-and-roll offense has been vastly underrated entering his rookie season.
Aldridge has shown a greater willingness to attack as of late, and with a facilitator to get him the ball, rolling to the rim will become a sight we see more often.
It’s true that Aldridge struggled to stand out alongside Brandon Roy for many years, and that Lillard has a number of Roy-like tendencies.
Attacking the basket and isolating a defense are both in Lillard’s repertoire; however, the biggest difference in styles will be his willingness to run up-tempo basketball and execute pick-and-roll plays—two things that cater to Aldridge's skill set.
Aldridge was always Robin to Roy’s Batman, but next to Lillard, the two should prove to boost each other's games.
Lillard is a player who can get the big man involved and lift the pressure off at the same time. That combination is rare, and it would take a top-tier team to snatch Aldridge away in 2015.
Up to this point, we’ve yet to hear any grumblings about free agency from Aldridge. He’s remained professional, and his focus on the court remains as strong as ever.
But for a fanbase that has seen so much heartbreak over the past decade, the mere thought of their best player leaving for a contender is a tough notion to swallow.
The Trail Blazers were supposed to have their Big Three in Aldridge, Roy and Greg Oden, but having watched two-thirds of the crew depart with injuries, the power forward from Texas remains the only true leader on a team full of prospects.
As good as Aldridge is today, he proved last season that he can't do it by himself.
The Blazers came into the year with high expectations, but following some of the worst point guard play that the team has seen in a long time, they dropped off hard and have hit the reset button entering 2013.
The Blazers need help if they're going to keep the big man long term, and with a little bit of time, Lillard and Aldridge could establish one of the best two-man games in the entire NBA.
If Lillard becomes a star point guard in the next few seasons, expect this conversation to disappear along with any fears of Aldridge leaving town.
The two of them together can be deadly, and if all goes according to plan, they'll be leading the team to success by the time Aldridge's contract is up.
However, if he never pans out and his game can't take the Blazers to the next level, it might be time to consider the unthinkable.
While nobody would ever expect a Dwight Howard- or Carmelo Anthony-like hostage situation in Portland, the team could very well follow the path of the Utah Jazz and trade their star while his value remains untainted by trade demands.
Trading Aldridge sounds insane, but losing him for nothing would be about as bad as it gets.
Without Lillard becoming a great NBA point guard, the Blazers could look eerily similar a few seasons down the road—a rebuilding squad with more questions than answers.
Fair or not, this team’s success begins and ends with Lillard.
If the team fails to rebound, expect another full-blown remodel, and expect Aldridge to explore his options.
However, if the winning ways make it back to Portland soon enough, the two-man game of Aldridge and Lillard should be on full display well beyond the 2015 NBA season.