Portland Trail Blazers fans weren't feeling particularly good on Monday, coming off a dispiriting loss in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series that saw the Memphis Grizzlies physically dominate their favorite squad from the opening tip in a bracing continuation of their regular-season struggles against Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and company. They didn't exactly get a pick-me-up with the delivery of the morning edition of the Oregonian, featuring this cold cup of coffee from Jason Quick about the potentially uncertain future of All-Star power forward — and unrestricted free agent to be — LaMarcus Aldridge:
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After an atrocious performance by the Blazers that at one point left Aldridge sitting alone on the bench as his teammates joined a late-game huddle, the Blazers need to worry about more than just losing this series.
They need to worry about losing one of the greatest players in franchise history.
Some Blazers players have already said they are worried free agency will take Aldridge away from Portland this summer. Earlier this month, before a home game, a Blazers player estimated the chances of him returning to Portland at 50-50.
Quick's column comes on the heels of ESPN's Ramona Shelburne suggesting that the 29-year-old Aldridge "is actually a lot more in play than people think" when it comes to making a move in free agency. It was also followed up Tuesday by this nugget from Grantland's Zach Lowe:
The Spurs accepted [the] risk [of not locking up Kawhi Leonard to an extension last summer] because waiting to bump up Leonard’s salary gives them the chance to dangle max cap space in front of Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge this summer. Neither is a good bet to leave his current team, but sources around the league have been saying for weeks that the Spurs might get a hearing with Aldridge — and that was before the Oregonian reported that at least one Blazers player thinks there is only a 50-50 chance that Aldridge stays in Portland.
Such reports run counter to Aldridge's public statements over the past year and a half.
The four-time All-Star said in January 2014 that he wanted to sign a long-term deal with the Blazers, noting his proximity to several franchise records and the appealing opportunity "to leave a legacy with one team and win a championship [in Portland] and to be here my whole career." He reiterated that the following month, saying he wanted to discuss a contract extension following the season if the Blazers were up for it.
After the Blazers bowed out to the Spurs in the second round of the 2014 playoffs, Portland brass seemed very interested in continuing to be in the LaMarcus Aldridge business, presenting his representatives with a three-year maximum extension offer worth a reported $55.5 million. Aldridge chose to kick the can down the road, though, saying that while he was open to discussing future arrangements, he preferred not to sign a new contract until after the '14-'15 season.
That approach made plenty of financial sense, as the collective bargaining agreement limits the length of extensions on veterans' contracts to four total years — meaning, since Aldridge's existing deal runs through the end of this season, that the most he could have gotten was that three-year extension — while allowing unrestricted maximum free-agent pacts to go up to five years, which would earn Aldridge an estimated $109 million.
Those two extra years and $54 million (give or take a buck or two) represent a pretty massive difference for any player, especially one, like Aldridge, who is about to turn 30 and could find another long-term max deal a bit tougher to come by should age or injury wind up sapping his effectiveness in the years ahead.
"This has no impact on my interest in staying in Portland," Aldridge told Joe Freeman of the Oregonian at the time. "I just want to get a five-year deal. I feel like that's the best decision on my part."
Aldridge continued to serve as the linchpin of the Blazers' on-court success this season, averaging a team-high 23.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game while playing through a torn ligament in his left thumb for the past three months to lead injury-plagued Portland to its second straight 50-win season. Things can change, though, and it's possible that the combination of the Blazers' harsh finish to the year, a disappointing early exit from the postseason and concerns about a future that might not feature fellow free agents Wesley Matthews (who will likely still be recuperating from a torn Achilles tendon when next season starts) and Robin Lopez could prompt Aldridge to consider his options.
More from Quick:
But one Blazers player cautioned that Aldridge already has enough money. Happiness is what he is truly seeking, and that could be found in being closer to family in Texas.
It's the tricky thing about Aldridge. No one ever really knows where he stands. He is fickle. Moody. And unpredictable.
So as this Blazers season has devolved into a snowball of snafus, epitomized by Sunday's Game 1 that featured wild shots, broken assignments, and embarrassing miscues, it was safe to wonder where Aldridge's mind was headed.
A win in Wednesday's Game 2 is unlikely to stop such speculation dead in its tracks. For a player who has rattled some sabers in the past when his frustration mounted, though, you'd figure that seeing his teammates answer the bell, match his effort, and prove capable of stealing home-court advantage from a tough Grizzlies team probably wouldn't hurt. And if the Blazers once again get their doors blown off, it seems a safe bet that the grumbling and the gathering of dark clouds in the Pacific Northwest will continue.
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