It’s getting late early in Portland.
Of course, the shadows can’t get much longer and the outlook much bleaker than when you’ve become the first team all season to lose to the Wizards.
Still, these things happen. If it were a one-game pratfall, it would be easier for the Trail Blazers to move on up the road and try to work out their frustrations on the soon-to-be-Rondo-less Celtics.
But the trouble is that 15 games into this season, it is already beginning to look a lot like last season. And the one before. And the one before.
“Inexcusable,” is the way guard Wesley Matthews described the loss at Washington and nobody was really sure if he was talking about the way the Blazers shot the ball, rebounded, defended or got off the bus.
Intolerable for their fans is the knowledge that over the past decade, the Blazers have done more rebuilding than FEMA and still have little to show for it. They have the longest current Western Conference drought without winning a playoff series (13 seasons and counting) and are giving little indication that it’s about to end. Enthusiasm for new coach Terry Stotts’ up-tempo, move-the-ball offense is leaking like air from a flat tire.
All of which quickly brings up the question of what to do with LaMarcus Aldridge?
The Blazers official stance is: nothing. That’s what general manager Neil Olshey told Aldridge in an October meeting, asking for patience and promising that the power forward would not be traded.
But how wise is that from both sides?
Aldridge is 27 going on who knows what. He’s previously had a heart condition, was sidelined last season by a hip injury and is now bothered an achy back, probably from having to carry so much of the load. He’s averaging a team-high 38.2 minutes per game and a career-low shooting percentage of 43.9.
On one hand the Blazers need their best player on the floor for his lion’s share of time in order to even dream of competing for one of the lower rung spots on the playoff ladder. But if this is a team that isn’t really going anywhere until rookies Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard develop, Nicolas Batum gets a real clue and then significant free agent additions are made next summer, does it make sense to wear Aldridge out?
The Blazers, with Greg Oden and Brandon Roy as cautionary tales in their recent past, are quite familiar with players that simply break down physically. If it’s going to take Olshey’s two-year window to get Aldridge the help he needs, what state will he be in physically, not to mention mentally? Might there come a time, even this season, when L.A. is ready to flee to L.A. or OKC or any other playoff contender with a need for the kind of firepower he brings? In this NBA era that we live, players are far less likely to commit themselves to a franchise for an entire career. How much longer before those around him, or Aldridge himself, conclude it’s time to start inching him toward the door?
If you’re the Blazers and have seen Aldridge’s game deteriorate into mostly jumpers and fadeaways this season, it could be easy to conclude that he’s past the point — if he ever was — of being a No. 1 option on a championship contender. If you’re already thinking about the next remodeling of the roster, wouldn’t it make sense to move the process along with a deal that could bring in young talent to grow at the same pace with Lillard, Leonard and Batum?
Of course, the trade deadline isn’t till February. But it’s already gotten late early in Portland.