If recent reports hold any merit, LaMarcus Aldridge could be on the precipice of becoming the latest in a long line of stars to force their way out of unwanted situations.
As the NBA draft approached earlier this week, there was increasing chatter about the Portland Trail Blazers forward being unhappy with the only team he's ever known. Jason Quick of The Oregonian reported Wednesday evening that Aldridge was looking to make a move.
In Quick's words, Aldridge thinks Portland is "too small" and "too boring." Whether that's true or not is unclear. There have been no swift denials from any camp on those reports. In fact, only more rumors have swirled as a result.
Chris Haynes of Comcast Sportsnet was less strident in his report that Aldridge was desperate to get out of town. But he noted that the 27-year-old forward has little interest in continuing this rebuild project over the long-term and already has a preferred destination in mind.
Don't get your hopes up, Bulls fans.
Aldridge can want a move to the Windy City as much as he wants—assuming he does—but the logistics of a trade don't make sense. The Bulls' most likely major trade assets are Luol Deng and a Charlotte Bobcats first-round pick who becomes unprotected in 2016. Deng has no use to the Blazers, as Nicolas Batum plays the same position, is arguably a better player and is four years younger.
Anytime "unprotected" and "Bobcats pick" come together in the same sentence, interest is obviously piqued. But at a LaMarcus Aldridge level? Not a chance. Aldridge is already a bona fide star, while there is still the remote possibility Michael Jordan suddenly flashes a one-year fluke of competency and that pick winds up worthless.
The Blazers would probably listen hard about a Joakim Noah-centric swap, but Chicago isn't biting. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reported that the Bulls have no interest in trading Noah.
In essence, without a multi-team deal, Aldridge-to-Chicago is dead before it began.
That said, Aldridge's reported unhappiness opens up a flurry of possible trains of thought. Namely, could Aldridge be more valuable to the Blazers out of Portland than he currently is with the team?
Superficially, that seems beyond comprehension. Aldridge is arguably the league's most underrated star, a guy who gives a nightly 21-9 without the slightest peep of off-the-floor trouble. He's made the All-Star team in each of the past two seasons and was an All-NBA selection in 2011.
In today's NBA, Aldridge is as near-prototypical as a 4 gets. He has a nifty little post game with an array of tricky moves, ones that help atone for middling athleticism.
And Aldridge's well-noted mid-range jumper has reached near-Boshian levels over the past couple seasons. He took 7.1 shots between 16-23 feet per game this past season—most among NBA power forwards—and hit an elite-level 41 percent.
Spacing reigns supreme since the NBA's revolutionary hybrid defenses. Guys like Aldridge make things easier for everyone.
The Blazers were outscored by less than one point per 100 possessions with Aldridge on the floor. With him on the bench, Portland was outscored by more than 10 points in the same possession frame.
He's easily the Blazers best player, a franchise face who undoubtedly could be the second banana on an NBA champion or a first option on a real contender. If reports are true that Aldridge wants out of Portland, all of those positive aspects are exactly why the team should trade him.
If we've learned anything over these past few years, where players have seemingly been strong-arming their way out of unwanted cities left and right, it's that leverage is everything in trade negotiations.
Skeptical? Let's go back a couple years to 2011.
While Williams' 2010-11 season had been tumultuous—he feuded with head coach Jerry Sloan, who ultimately resigned from the position after 23 seasons with the Jazz—very few even knew D-Will was on the block. Sloan's resignation was seen as a sign that Williams "won" the disagreement and that he'd be sticking around in Salt Lake City.
Instead, the Jazz pulled the rug out from under the NBA. At the time Williams was considered one of the two or three best point guards in the league. This was a time where Deron Williams vs. Chris Paul was actually still an argument for some. He would not be a free agent until the summer of 2012, so there was no impetus on moving him.
And Utah got a haul that was representative of Williams' standing. He was traded to the Nets for a package that included Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, two first-round picks and cash. Favors was the No. 3 pick in the 2010 draft, one of the first-round picks became the third in 2011 (Enes Kanter), and the other was packaged Thursday night in a deal that landed the team Trey Burke.
In all, it's a swap both teams would do again. Brooklyn didn't get a championship cornerstone in Williams, but it got the foundation around with to carve its current roster.
Utah received two very promising big men and Burke—three players believed to comprise the next core of Jazz basketball. In other words, the Jazz leveraged their positioning into creating a whole new trio of promising players out of one.
For months, speculation had been brewing that Anthony not only wanted out of Denver but would only agreed to a contract extension with New York. Anthony was due to be an unrestricted free agent, and obviously, no team was going to give up a major asset without assurances
'Melo only gave those assurances to one franchise—the Knicks. He used his leverage to find the situation he wanted, leaving Denver to pick up whatever it could get in return.
The deal, which included the Minnesota Timberwolves, included so many moving parts it'd make your head hurt even after the fact. But the main takeaways for Denver—Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Timofey Mozgov and the Knicks' 2014 first-round pick—have been the equivalent to cobbling up some dimes and quarters to make a dollar.
Chandler and Gallinari are nice wings but just above replacement-level. Felton spent 21 games with Denver and is back with New York now. Mozgov averaged 8.9 minutes per game last season and is still best known for a certain moment in his Knicks career. New York's first-round pick in 2014 will be in the mid-to-late 20s, which isn't great even in a loaded class.
The Nuggets are still contending, but it's hardly because of what they got for Anthony.
Portland, for now, is in a similar situation to Utah. Aldridge is under contract for the next two seasons and is thus in little position to leverage his way to a certain city.
He can certainly nudge the Blazers along the way and give them a list of preferred destinations, but Portland retains all the leverage in this situation.
If Aldridge is truly miserable in the greater Oregon area and wants to move to a big-city location with a contender, then it will have to be under the Blazers' terms. They have a little less than 20 months from now until the date one could reasonable expect the 2015 NBA trade deadline to fall on.
That's way more than enough time to hold out for the right deal. The Blazers are in no way, shape or form desperate to make this deal happen. They can hold Aldridge hostage—in terms where "hostage" is defined as making eight figures per year—with impunity.
The same cannot be said for teams more desperate for an Aldridge-type talent. The Nets were facing a move to Brooklyn without a franchise star. The Knicks were bordering on a decade of irrelevance mixed with embarrassment. Those teams needed superstars. They had no time or patience to waste.
Portland, as it's negotiating with teams, could even use that leverage to make Aldridge fall in love with Portland all over again.
Damian Lillard's emergence as one of the game's most exciting guards was one of the stories of last season, and the team just took a microwave-scoring 2-guard in C.J. McCollum Thursday night. Couple that with the vastly underrated Nicolas Batum, and Portland has an impressive starting five who can compete with anyone.
Its bench, of course, is dreadful—even with McCollum or Wesley Matthews coming off of it. But with two offseasons between now and the 2015 deadline to build this team, Portland might be a burgeoning force in the Western Conference by the time Aldridge's contract expires.
That's the beautiful thing about leverage. You can use it any way you want.
Where will LaMarcus Aldridge play next season?
Suggesting that using these next 20 months to persuade Aldridge to stay is the only smart option, however, is reductive thinking. Great organizations exhaust their options, gather information and make informed decisions. Bad organizations make rash decisions, brought forth by panic and pressure to win.
It's possible that a team that loses out on the Dwight Howard-Chris Paul sweepstakes this summer will have the combination of cap space and young talent to make a New Jersey-like offer for Aldridge. The Blazers could land beaucoup talent between the ages of 21-25, falling in line with the remainder of their Aldridge-centric core.
Or the opposite could be true. Portland could get low-balled to such an extent that the team is forced to keep Aldridge in order to avoid an angry mob. Everyone in this mini-saga knows that we're far away from an answer.
Another beautiful thing about leverage? The Blazers will have more than enough time to find theirs.
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