Just how much longer will LaMarcus Aldridge be a Portland Trail Blazer?
Around Portland, there will always be a level of insecurity when it comes to their Blazers.
They have a history of losing their players to bigger and better (at least perceived) teams. Portland is a smaller market (not one of the top 20 television markets in the United States), and it isn't blessed with sunny weather the entire year (although a Portland fall and summer is mesmerizing).
Therefore, there will always be that feeling in the back of the minds of fans that they could lose their home-grown talent to one of the big boys.
And in the case of LaMarcus Aldridge, this insecurity turns into outright paranoia. Never before have they boasted one of the top three power forwards in the game.
Sure, Rasheed Wallace was supremely talented, but few considered him the elite power forward of his era.
And obviously in the early days of the franchise, Maurice Lucas was a beast. But during that era, the league had plenty of far better players at the 4.
Aldridge is a bona fide star player, and it can be argued is the best power forward on the planet.
And he just so happens to play for a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2011.
So just how long will Aldridge give the Blazers before he bolts town?
A new NBA
Ten years ago, this would seem like a lot less likely of a situation. Players that were on a level with Aldridge didn't tend to force their way out of situations quite so frequently as today.
Sure, their teams would generally move them if they were in a rebuilding phase. Wallace himself was moved when the Blazers decided they were in need of a re-tooling project.
But in today's NBA, the post-Decision NBA, star players tend to be a lot less patient.
They know that the league is quickly becoming geared toward the haves and the have-nots, and nobody wants to be left standing without a chair when the music stops.
Chris Paul forced his way out of New Orleans to pair up with a more talented squad. Carmelo Anthony was able to push himself out of Denver in order to work in a bigger market. Even Brandon Jennings was able to pout his way out of Milwaukee.
Star players no longer have the patience to stick around in losing situations.
In all honesty, who can blame them? An NBA player's career is extremely finite. They reach their peak in their mid-20s and only stay there until their early 30s. Why give those crucial years to a team that isn't committed to winning?
Aldridge will be 28 this year, which would mean he is half-way through his prime. He has been putting up excellent numbers in each of the past three seasons, but those numbers will eventually come down.
He needs to be able to maximize his talent and do so on a winning team.
According to Scott Schroeder on Pro Basketball Talk, Aldridge recently admitted that he had been "frustrated" in Portland.
Certainly fans could understand why. Last year's team was a joke. Not a joke in the sense that it was void of talent. Any team with Damian Lillard on it certainly has some talent.
No, the Blazers were a joke last year because of the bench that management put together. Of the subs, only a few are actual NBA-caliber players that have a shot at making any type of impression on teams league-wide.
Luke Babbitt? Nolan Smith? Sasha Pavlovic?
Until a midseason trade for Eric Maynor, there was not a single viable option coming off the Blazer bench.
Sure, Victor Claver and Will Barton have some talent, but neither is ready to carry any type of load for the Blazers.
It has got to be frustrating for a star player like Aldridge to be forced to play sizable minutes because the bench players can't fill his shoes and then be forced to play from behind when those bench players leave points on the board.
But luckily for Aldridge, the Blazers went into this offseason determined to improve their anemic bench.
They added players like Brook Lopez, Mo Williams, Dorell Wright and Thomas Robinson as well as rookie C.J. McCollum. At every single position, they improved their depth.
The overall level of talent on the Blazers has improved greatly.
Now how good, exactly, is this team determined to be? There are just too many question marks surrounding too many of the players to give any honest assessment.
I would say that at the very least, this team should improve.
How much time?
Back to Aldridge.
LaMarcus is technically under contract through next year. He is on the hook for about $30 million over the next two seasons.
However, those numbers and years really don't mean much. For a player of Aldridge's talent, plenty of teams will find a way to make room for him.
The real question becomes: Just how content can the Blazers make LA?
Aldridge is not going to want to wait until after he is 30 to find a contending team. The next two years are just too important to waste on a team that isn't committed to winning.
The take here is that the Blazers have one year to wow Aldridge. They need to make real tangible steps in the right direction.
Now does that mean contending for a title this year? Of course not. Barring a miraculous trade for a superstar, the Blazers just will not be contenders this year.
The Western Conference certainly isn't as tough as it once was, but it isn't completely weak either. The Blazers should improve this year, and the playoffs certainly should be viewed as a viable goal.
Aldridge needs to know that the Blazers are committed to winning now and not in the distant future.
If they are able to move in the right direction, they may just have a shot at keeping Aldridge a Blazer.
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