Let's quickly summarize the scuttlebutt in Portland this offseason.
Aldridge came back to say things were blown out of proportion once they, you know, got blown out of proportion, but the rumor mill was already spinning.
After Aldridge made it clear that he was happy and pleased with Portland's offseason moves, Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey broke out the media-day haymaker by asking everyone to "get over it," which surely, no one will actually do.
Ah, just your average offseason in Portland, right? The city's obsessive love for the Blazers almost necessitates the manufacturing of mountains out of molehills, but the concern surrounding Aldridge's future is understandable.
Everyone is saying the right things for now (hope springs eternal!), and the Blazers did make some important improvements this offseason, which very well could placate Aldridge, at least for the time being.
But what happens if the losses start piling up? Is Aldridge prepared to spend another season of his prime playing for a non-playoff team? Perhaps more importantly, is Portland prepared to move forward with a core that's not even good enough to get in the postseason?
Because it's hard to imagine that the Blazers will be out of the playoff hunt by the trade deadline, Aldridge probably isn't going anywhere this season. The power forward has acknowledged in the past that a decent season this year could lead to a really good one next year, so perhaps he's more patient than he's been given credit for.
The problem is, Blazers owner Paul Allen might not be so patient. Olshey has said repeatedly that Allen has no interest in rebuilding. But if the team struggles, the pressure likely will be applied to get something done.
Maybe that's a trade of Aldridge, but the move could instead involve trading another core piece or the cobbling together of assets to acquire help now.
It's just hard to imagine that Olshey can convince Allen that sitting on his hands is the best move, particularly after that was the decision made last year.
There's a reason why the Blazers have "one foot in, one foot out" this season, as the flexibility and extra assets may be necessary if the current group sputters. You probably shouldn't go all-in if you don't think you have the best hand, and so the Blazers have decided to straddle the line and keep their options open.
This is essentially a make-or-break season for someone in Portland, but it's hard to tell for whom. It could be for Aldridge, Olshey or even head coach Terry Stotts...or possibly all three. A playoff appearance and a good showing would put everything on ice for a bit, but the Aldridge rumors are going to heat up (and so will some seats) if the Blazers miss out on the postseason once again.
One thing is for sure: there will no be shortage of suitors for Aldridge either way. Until he inks a new deal, this isn't going to go away.
Rounding up the rumors
While individual rumors that never come to fruition may not have much value, an aggregate might.
According to Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com, the Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Clippers, Atlanta Hawks and New Orleans Pelicans all declined to include Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Al Horford and Anthony Davis in deals for Aldridge this offseason.
The Cleveland Cavaliers reportedly made a play for Aldridge before the draft, but the Blazers quickly declined, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein.
If nothing else, this at least provides some context for the type of haul the Blazers would want in a trade for Aldridge. The asking price, for now, is understandably ridiculously high. Is there any team that could make an offer enticing enough for the Blazers to pull the trigger during the season if that asking price comes down a bit?
Let's borrow this deal from Grantland's Zach Lowe to kick things off. The Detroit Pistons send Greg Monroe, Rodney Stuckey and his expiring contract, Kyle Singler and a future first-round pick to the Portland Trail Blazers for Aldridge (per ESPN NBA Trade Machine).
As Lowe explained, Aldridge provides Detroit's frontcourt with some badly needed stretch and a better match, and the Blazers get a young franchise big man whom they can retain in restricted free agency.
The Washington Wizards, meanwhile, should be involved in just about every rumor for an available big man, and they are one of the few teams who could offer cap relief, an enticing draft pick package and a potential star on a rookie deal. They're also a team desperate to make the playoffs, as GM Ernie Grunfeld might finally be out of a job if the Wizards underachieve.
With that in mind, the Washington Wizards could send Bradley Beal, the expiring contracts of Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza and a future first-round pick to the Portland Trail Blazers for Aldridge, West Matthews and Joel Freeland.
A core of John Wall, Aldridge, Nene, Matthews and the combination of Otto Porter and Martell Webster should certainly be good enough to make the Wizards a playoff team in the Eastern Conference. And turning those expiring deals into an actual player who can help now would make a lot of sense, particularly with Okafor's injury.
The Blazers, meanwhile, would have the best young perimeter trio in basketball with Damian Lillard, Beal and Nicolas Batum. Throw in the max cap room created for the offseason and another first-round pick from a perennially mediocre franchise, and that might be enough for the Blazers to make a move.
The push needed
What would be the best return for LaMarcus Aldridge?
Unless the Blazers are overwhelmed by a godfather offer, a few different things will likely need to happen to motivate a trade.
First and foremost, Portland will have to lose. They'll likely need to be at least a handful of games back from the No. 8 seed by the time the deadline rolls around or else there won't be much of an incentive to not stay the course with a young team.
And if the Blazers lose, they'll have to do so with a full deck. Injuries can't play a major factor in the team's decline. For Aldridge to go, there can't be any convenient excuses readily available for either side to use or believe in.
Rarely does the first half of a season have the potential to define a franchise's direction, but if things start badly enough, the trade deadline could function as decision time for Aldridge's future in Portland.