Why Trail Blazers Thomas Robinson Trade Puts LaMarcus Aldridge On Market

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistJuly 1, 2013

DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 06:  LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the Portland Trail Blazers at American Airlines Center on February 6, 2013 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

LaMarcus Aldridge is now expendable for the Portland Trail Blazers.

To be clear, two-time All-Stars in their prime can always be of value to the team they play for. With Aldridge, the Blazers have an outside chance of finishing in the top-eight of the Western Conference next season. For what Portland is currently angling toward, though, Aldridge isn't indispensable.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the Blazers acquired Thomas Robinson—the fifth-overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft—from the Houston Rockets in exchange for the rights to Kostas Papanikolaou and Marko Todorovic.

Robinson struggled to find his professional footing during his rookie season. Spending stints with the Sacramento Kings and Rockets, he posted a combined average of 4.8 points and 4.5 rebounds on 43 percent shooting, logging just over 15 minutes per game.

Looking at the Kansas product now, he hardly replaces what Aldridge provides for the Blazers. Last season, Portland's power forward put up 21.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks a night en route to securing his second ever All-Star selection. Substituting in Robinson doesn't make the Blazers better.

But consider the events prior to the draft. Jason Quick of The Oregonian initially reported that Aldridge wanted out of Portland, postulating that he believed Portland to be "too small" and "too boring."

Draft day came and went, and Aldridge went nowhere. Not only that, the Blazers drafted a point guard with the 10th pick, in C.J. McCollum out of Lehigh. Had they any intention of trading Aldridge in the near future, the belief existed they would go big.

A little too conveniently, Aldridge asserted the very next day that he made no such trade request.

“I haven't demanded a trade or cleared a way for my departure,” Aldridge told CSNNW.com. “It's not true. That's all I am saying right now.”

Believing Aldridge didn't request a trade isn't difficult. The generally soft-spoken star has never been one to (publicly) ruffle feathers and leverage his status against his own team. Quick's reports could easily be inaccurate.

Then the Blazers land Robinson, who despite a tumultuous inaugural campaign, brings with him a sky-high ceiling.

Cursory glances at his numbers (like before) suggest he's a project, which he is. Just let it be known that when extrapolated accordingly, he averaged 11.4 points and 10.7 rebounds per 36 minutes.

Double-double machines are harder to come by nowadays. Only 11 players in the league posted at least 10 points and 10 rebounds per game last season.

Admittedly, one of those players was J.J. Hickson, who in all likelihood will be leaving the Blazers in search of a bigger pay day this offseason. Bringing in Robinson, and his potential to put up consistent double-doubles down the road, doesn't mean the Blazers have to put Aldridge on the chopping block. All of Portland knows how badly the team needed to add depth to the rotation anyway.

Shaking the feeling that something bigger is at play here isn't realistic, though. 

Robinson and Aldridge aren't two you would expect to spend an ample amount of time alongside each other. At 6'9", Robinson has the strength necessary to combat opposing centers, not the size. Aldridge has found success playing the center position in the past—he posted a 27.9 PER at the 5 last season, according to 82games.com—but is a natural power forward.

Still, that's not what makes Aldridge available. Again, an increasing number of teams are going small anyway. Given Aldridge's ability to play center, there's no reason to believe he'd be overmatched.

Our inquiry goes beyond next season. And the one after that. And the one after that still. However long it takes the Blazers to become a legitimate title contender—that's what we're interested in.

At 27, Aldridge is the second-oldest member of the Blazers on the books for next season. That could change depending on how Portland's free-agency endeavors pan out, but for now that's the situation. He also has just two years left on his deal, at which point he'll have the opportunity to leave. If you don't believe he'll consider doing just that, you are sorely mistaken.

When he enters free agency in 2015, Aldridge will be going on 30 and history tells us that players approaching 30 want to play for a title. Stars in their prime in general—LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, etc.—want to contend for championships. Younger athletes have orchestrated their escapes from teams in similar straights to that of Portland (see everyone mentioned previously).

The Blazers are nowhere near a championship level. In a few years, following some more lottery-bound campaigns, early playoff exits and the continued improvements of Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum, maybe they'll be prepared to play for a title. By then, Aldridge will be 30 or older. Or he may even have left.

So why not bite the bullet now and entertain offers for him? Why not receive something in return for what could prove to be an inevitable departure?

This is the best time for the Blazers to auction him off to the highest bidder. I'm not embellishing the circumstances either. This is the absolute best time. 

Aldridge is still in his prime and the Blazers have just acquired a budding young power-forward prospect in Robinson. They've given themselves all the leverage.

Were Aldridge entering the final year of his deal, he could pick and choose where he wanted to be traded. The threat of watching him leave after renting him for one year would cause any team not on his list of preferred destinations—really, any team that isn't the Chicago Bulls—to taper what they're offering.

No such limitations exist at the moment. Even if Aldridge wasn't "interested" in playing for Team X, Y or Z, they have two years to convince him otherwise. If the Dwightmare has taught us anything, it's that two years is a long (long, long, long) time.

Portland can now be selective in the offers it fields. Acquiring valuable first-round draft picks and a potentially franchise-altering big man is a realistic end goal— for now. Later presents no such guarantees.

Packages that can be negotiated before next season won't be readily available when Aldridge is an imminent flight risk next summer. Delaying a trade even until the middle of next season stands to hurt the Blazers' crop of offers. 

Accepting that the team and Aldridge are simply approaching two vastly different stages of their existences now enables the Blazers to make the most of an unfortunate situation. Because that's what that is. 

The Blazers shouldn't want to trade Aldridge, and he shouldn't want out. Ideally, the team he began his career with (not drafted him) would present the best fit for him. In a perfect world, this union could withstand the strain of time.

But reality is beginning to catch up to the Blazers and Warriors. They are no longer a stainless match. Their days together are numbered. Impending change is all both parties can count on. And whenever that's the case, it's best for the team, for the Blazers to actualize it on their own terms.

In this case, that dictates the Blazers shop him now, when they can secure the best possible return.

When they can move on from Aldridge before he moves on from them.