By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — LaMarcus Aldridge has put his name on it. In a year we’ll see if he owns it.
The Portland Trail Blazers’ All-Star power forward, seemingly so close to forcing his way out only to be coaxed back in, primarily by the drafting of young All-Star point guard Damian Lillard and a roster re-tool over the last couple years that led to the Blazers’ first playoff series win in 14 years, is now not only talking about re-upping with Portland for the maximum five years, but playing out his career in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.
“I want to be the best Blazer — ever,” Aldridge told Oregonian beat writer Joe Freeman on Tuesday. “I should be able to leave a mark on a big-time franchise that is going to be seen forever. And I will be able to say I played here my whole career. This city has embraced me and grown with me. I have so much history, it just makes sense to stay.”
And here’s how close he already is to so many franchise marks. From Freeman:
Aldridge’s name is dotted up and down the Blazers’ record books, listed among the leaders in a host of statistical categories. Next season, he conceivably could move into the top five in blocks, free throws, minutes and games played, while also moving past Clyde Drexler to become the Blazers’ all-time leading rebounder and moving ahead of Terry Porter into second place in scoring. If Aldridge signs that long-term extension next season, he will set himself up to finish his career as the leader in every major category in Blazers history.
With Free Agency 2014 still in a holding pattern, Aldridge, one of several Big Fish who can become a free agent in the summer of 2015, certainly sounds as though his situation will be less LeBron James and more Dirk Nowitzki.
He told the Oregonian that he will not sign a contract extension this summer, but only because he plans to sign a new contract next summer. One of the odd quirks of the collective bargaining agreement is that it allows players to fulfill their current contracts, enter free agency and then re-sign with their teams for more years and more money than they could by signing an extension.
If Aldridge were to sign an extension this summer, he would play out the final year of his contract at $16 million, then begin a three-year extension for $55.5 million. However, if he becomes a free agent, he can re-sign next summer for five years and $108 million.
My theory on this is the NBA craves the offseason buzz created by free agency. Just look at what’s gone on since July 1. Extensions are boring. Free agency is suspenseful with a limitless rumor mill and headline potential. So even with a player who says he wants to stay with his team, the media can, and will create “what if” story lines throughout the final year of the player’s contract and into free agency.
LaMarcus Aldridge says he wants to re-sign, but will he really? Wouldn’t he rather play in New York or Los Angeles or Chicago … or his hometown Dallas ?
Last month, Portland owner Paul Allen and general manager Neil Olshey put a three-year, $55.5 million extension on the table, but knew Aldridge would not sign it. It was a formality, a good-faith move. The billionaire Allen will be happy to pay the $108 million tab next summer.
And it’s great news for the Portland fan base, one of the most devout in the league. In an age where the grass always seems greener elsewhere — and we might be seeing it again with James and Carmelo Anthony — Aldridge a Dallas-area native, seems to be viewing the full arc of his career that has now spanned eight seasons all in Portland.
Last season marked his third consecutive All-Star appearance, and it probably should have been his fourth. Aldridge had the best year of his career under coach Terry Stotts, who completed his second season. Aldridge averaged a double-double for the first time in his career, 23.2 ppg and 11.1 rpg. He thrived with the addition of blue-collar center Robin Lopez to handle more inside dirty work and lessen Aldridge’s defensive responsibilities.
Aldridge turns 29 on July 19, and assuming he signs the five-year pact next summer, he will be playing his remaining prime years in Portland. He’ll turn 35 when that deal expires. Nowitzki, who stuck with the Mavericks through thick and thin, just completed a four-year deal at age 36 and has agreed to three more years for $30 million.
The Blazers were one of the great success stories of last season. How the next season unfolds could either reaffirm Aldridge’s stance or, if the team takes a step back, make him think twice.
For now, he has stated his intentions. We’ll see if they remain the same one year from now.