LaMarcus Aldridge's future with the Portland Trail Blazers was up in the air not too long ago, but that should no longer be the case. Over the course of an unexpectedly great season, the hesitations on both sides should have melted away.
Things can change quickly in the NBA, and Aldridge is a perfect example. After an offseason full of trade buzz, Blazers general manager Neil Olshey did the right thing by doing his best to squash any rumors right from the outset. If the Blazers were going to try and keep Aldridge, eliminating potential distractions was the first step.
Here's what Neil Olshey responded during media day this year when asked about the Aldridge trade rumors, as transcribed by Ben Golliver of Blazers Edge:
Oh dear God, would you guys get over it? How many -- asked and answered. Thank you, by the way. What else, guys? Show me a media report where LaMarcus Aldridge has said anything other than, 'I hope the team improves, I'm excited about what we did, I want to get better and I want to win.' Then we can have a conversation. Until then, let's move on. OK? Is that possible?
By honestly committing to this year and avoiding the questions of trade talk or Aldridge's ability to become a free agent in 2015, both parties did the right thing. Aldridge could have followed the path of superstars like Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul who asked out in advance of their contract expiring because they were stuck on non-playoff teams.
But give Aldridge credit for recognizing the talent level around him. With Terry Stotts at the helm in his second season, the Blazers did well to quickly establish an offensive system built on selfless sharing of the ball. Olshey, meanwhile, traded for Robin Lopez to protect Aldridge up front and make sure he wouldn't be stuck with an undersized 5 like J.J. Hickson ever again.
It was a show of good faith for Aldridge to be patient, and it certainly wasn't a risk-free proposition for the Blazers, either. If Portland hadn't had an impressive start to this season, there was the chance that Aldridge would ask out and they would have to take 75 cents on the dollar in a trade around the deadline.
It wouldn't be surprising if there were questions about whether Aldridge could be a max player and the leader of a title-contending team. After all, Aldridge's success was directly tied to Brandon Roy's previously. Although he was always solid, Aldridge didn't quite have the star status of other max players around the league, despite being a 20-10 type of guy.
A lot of those concerns have been put to bed over the course of this year and in the postseason. With shooters all around him in Damian Lillard, Wes Matthews and Nicolas Batum, Aldridge has been given room to breathe on the block. Defensively, Lopez has absorbed a lot of the dirty work, allowing Aldridge to contest shots and take less of a beating.
The combination of all those things has led to a career year for Aldridge in his eighth season as a pro. Aldridge has posted career highs in points per game (23.2) and rebounds per game (11.1), and he's led the league by a wide margin in mid-range jumpers made.
Aside from the improvements made around him, Aldridge has benefited from the league changing as well. Now more than ever, floor spacing at the 4 has become necessary for an offense to have success, and Aldridge is one of the premier shooting big men in the league. Instead of being devalued for taking too many jumpers, Portland has been able to build an entire offense around that.
It's been a great fit, both for Aldridge and the Blazers. With that in mind, it's not a surprise that Aldridge has expressed his desire to stay in Portland given everything that's happened this season. Here's what Aldridge and Olshey told Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune earlier this year:
"I would like to re-sign here," he says. "If they want to talk about it, I would talk about it. They haven't yet, but I'm looking forward to the chance to do that."
"When the appropriate time comes, which is not now, that is a conversation that will happen between (owner) Paul Allen, myself, LaMarcus and his agent (Arn Tellum)," General Manager Neil Olshey said.
While a lot can change in a year, as we've seen, it seems likely that the Trail Blazers will negotiate a max extension with Aldridge at some point this offseason. Based on Aldridge's criteria and Portland's success, it's hard to see a much better fit that's available out there, especially with Damian Lillard establishing himself as one of the very best point guards in the league.
Here's what Aldridge told Ken Berger of CBSSports.com about what he'll value for the future.
"Winning and happiness and making sure my worth is valued," Aldridge said, when asked what he will prioritize when it comes time to decide his future. "It's always nice to be noticed for doing good things."
It was only a few months ago when word was spreading on the NBA grapevine that Aldridge had seen enough in Portland and wanted out. And truly, who could've blamed him? The Blazers' window certainly appeared to have slammed shut, their decline all but assured.
But Olshey has done in Portland for Aldridge what he did for Chris Paul in Los Angeles: He made it a place where a star wants to stay. From the drafting of Damian Lillard to the hiring of Terry Stotts to the revamping of the bench this past summer, the Blazers are on a sustainable path. They've acquired talent and cap flexibility without squandering assets. They have front-office stability, too, after years of unrest.
While the decision for both sides to stick together certainly could have backfired, it's hard to imagine Olshey or Aldridge have any regrets. After taking down the Houston Rockets, the Blazers will have a big test against the San Antonio Spurs in the second round. This will be a great opportunity to see where the Blazers are at, and how far they have to go in order to win a title.
But regardless of the outcome, this season should be considered a great success. Drastically improving the chances Aldridge wants to re-sign is just about the best you could hope for going into the year, and it sounds like that mission has been accomplished.