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What’s Next for the Portland Trail Blazers

Tuesday, May 05, 2015


The 2014-15 season for the Portland Trail Blazers has concluded, in a five-game series loss to the physical Memphis Grizzlies. It certainly wasn’t a good series to watch, basketball-wise. Definitely not like the Clippers-Spurs series, which went all the way to seven games.

I watched that seventh game in full, on the most glamorous sports day of the year, and I can say without reservation that it was the best game not involving the Blazers that I’ve ever watched. The ending was the best part, as Chris Paul quashed the naysayers who said he couldn’t get it done in the playoffs by sinking a runner over the Great Tim Duncan with one second left, sending the defending champions home in the first round.

The Blazers didn’t have any kind of great game; the Memphis series had the air of last year’s second-round tilt against the Spurs, where the team was just glad they didn’t get swept. 

So, that begs the inevitable question: What’s next?

LaMarcus Aldridge: The most obvious question is where will Aldridge decide to go in free agency. There are many rumors floating around the interwebs, ranging from Cleveland’s possible interest if they can’t retain Kevin Love, to San Antonio and Dallas targeting Aldridge as a replacement for their respective resident legends at power forward, to Aldridge being jealous and resentful of Damian Lillard’s growing national profile, and the requisite commercials.

The last point is spouted by people who know NBA players’ tendencies in general, not by those that know Aldridge particularly. I can’t imagine a dude as chill and calm as Aldridge being jealous of Lillard’s commercials; Aldridge isn’t the kind of man that likes to put himself out there, and he and everybody else (including Lillard) knows that he’s better than Lillard, and the focal point of the team.

I’ve mentioned several times that Aldridge would be a perfect fit in the New York Knicks’ triangle offense, but the presence of Carmelo Anthony, and the general craptasticness of that putrid roster, might warn Aldridge to stay away. The Los Angeles Lakers also want Aldridge, because they need guys that are actual basketball players, but then again, this is the franchise that wants to give Rajon Rondo, last seen tearing apart the Dallas Mavericks from the inside, significant money this summer.

I’m sure myself, and many others on this site (and nationally), will delve into this topic in the coming weeks; it’ll be the biggest sports story in Oregon, with everybody giving their daily hot take on Aldridge. It’ll be obsessive, exhaustive, and could eventually end up being completely pointless.

My gut feeling today is that he stays.

Damian Lillard: Lillard’s up for a contract extension, since next year will be the last of his rookie deal. Depending on what happens with Aldridge, Lillard could receive a max-contract offer of five years and $120 million, taking into account 2016’s expected massive cap jump. The new contract would kick in that summer.

It should be made clear that there is only one player per team that can be offered a five-year contract, and that the Blazers will offer the five-year deal to Aldridge; it’s the only real home-field advantage Portland has with the unrestricted free agent. 

If Aldridge does re-sign, and it is with the expected five-year max, Lillard will get a four-year deal. Whether it’s for the regular max, or for the Derrick Rose Rule “super-max,” depends on Lillard being named to an All-NBA team for 2014-15. Make no bones about it, though, Lillard’s about to receive a rich basketball deal, though it’s hardly needed; the money he’s making from Adidas, State Farm, and Foot Locker endorsements will dwarf any earnings he’ll get from Paul Allen.

The breakdowns on Lillard’s game, and what he needs to improve in the offseason, will come later in the year. I just want to highlight his contract situation, and congratulate him on graduating from college. A guy who’s a nine-figure millionaire making an effort to get his degree? That’s character right there, and yet another reason why Rip City should love this guy.

Wesley Matthews: Healthy, Matthews receives a huge offer, easy; in the neighborhood of $12 million a year. His 3-and-D game, combined with the little wrinkles to his game he added during his Blazer tenure, make him extremely valuable in today’s NBA. However, there is the issue of his Achilles injury.

Matthews is the real unknown when it comes to the Blazers’ offseason. A player coming off an Achilles rupture isn’t usually the same guy; the injury has even ended careers. If Matthews can’t move with the same speed he used to on defense, his value is reduced by several millions of dollars per season. His true abilities, though, won’t be known until after he gets paid.

The risk with Matthews is well-known, but there’s a real need for skilled wing players, and Matthews is a proven shooter who’s attained the magic 40% mark from three-point range multiple times in his career. That, coupled with his bruising post game, ensure he’ll have value even if the Achilles injury permanently robs him of lateral movement.

Although CJ McCollum’s emerged in the playoffs, his NBA destiny is as a light-’em-up sixth man off the bench, due to his lack of size and inability to play defense. That, coupled with Arron Afflalo testing the grounds in free agency (he’s expected to decline his player option for next year), may make Portland GM Neil Olshey think retaining Matthews is the safest option, though it’ll be the most expensive.

Robin Lopez: Although Lopez pulled a disappearing act in the Memphis series, getting utterly dominated by Marc Gasol, I still expect Lopez to get around what a healthy Matthews would receive; large humans that shoot well from 15 feet and in, and from the free-throw line, while providing legitimate rim protection, are extremely rare. 

Lopez qualifies under basketball’s version of the “Planet Theory,” which is what a football coach came up with when asked why his NFL team paid a 320-pound defensive lineman almost as much as they paid their franchise quarterback. He said that 320-pound men that move fast and are light on their feet are so rare, they’re worth any amount of money despite the warts they may have, both professionally and personally.

In basketball, finding a seven-foot man able to move quickly, shoot a basketball, and be smart enough to instantly diagnose offenses, and the counters to those offenses, are rarer than me getting a date (and that, sadly, is incredibly rare). They’re the NBA’s “Planet Theory” individuals, and as such, those individuals will get substantially more money than your average NBA player, just by virtue of being very tall and skilled at some aspects of the game.

For a seven-foot man, it’s either play basketball, or clean out elephant butts for a living. Though Lopez is a quirky sort, and we do have several elephants at the Oregon Zoo, I don’t think Robin’s ready to scrub elephant asses just yet.

As for other roster concerns, Meyers Leonard has repaid the faith Olshey had in him when the Blazers GM traded Thomas Robinson, and picked up Leonard’s option on the fourth year of his contract. Now, Leonard, who was taken in the same draft as Lillard (Brooklyn Nets fans will forever rue the day that Billy King traded for Gerald Wallace, surrendering the draft pick that would eventually become Lillard), should get an extension of his own.

If Aldridge does end up leaving, the guy who will replace him could very well end up being Meyers Leonard. Quite a turnaround from a year ago, when the likes of me were wondering if Leonard had an NBA future.

Steve Blake, Chris Kaman, and McCollum will all be back next year, as will starting small forward Nicolas Batum. 

Some familiar faces will be there, but the big domino is obviously Aldridge. I don’t expect Olshey to just sit on his hands and wait for Aldridge to make a decision--that’s not Olshey’s style. It won’t be a stretch to say, however, that what Aldridge does will dictate what the Blazers do this summer.

At least Aldridge says he’ll be quick about his choice. One way or the other, he won’t drag it out. That’s good news either way; if Aldridge says yea, Olshey can assemble a contending team around him. If Aldridge says nay, Olshey can quickly put a contingency plan into action.

The summer of 2015 is vital to the future of the Portland Trail Blazers. Either we get to celebrate a franchise icon staying with the only NBA team he’s ever known, or I’ll add another reason to the thousands-long list of reasons to drink vast amounts of kirshwasser. 

(Google kirshwasser. I dare you.)

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.


Related Slideshow: Oregon’s Most Devastating Sports Injuries

Here is GoLocalPDX's list of Oregon's most devastating injuries that have occured within the past 10 years.

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Greg Oden

Sept. 2007 — Micro fracture surgery on right knee

Dec. 2009 — Fractured left patella 

Nov. 2010 — Micro fracture surgery on left knee

Dec. 2011 — Arthroscopic surgery on right knee

Unfortunately, Trail Blazer fans everywhere already know how drafting Greg Oden over Kevin Durant worked out for their team. After being be the #1 selection in the 2007 NBA Draft, Oden was never able to play a full season due to ongoing knee injuries. The team eventually waived him in March of 2012.

Photo via Wikipedia (image cropped)
Prev Next

Dennis Dixon

Nov. 2007 — Torn left ACL

During the 2007 season Dixon had the Oregon Ducks as the #2 team in the country. That was until he suffered a torn ACL against Arizona State and attempted to play on it the following week against Arizona. After Dixon went down for the season the Ducks lost their remaining two regular season games. Fortunately, they were able to end their season on a high note with a victory over South Florida in the 2007 Sun Bowl.

Photo via Wikipedia (image cropped)
Prev Next

Brandon Roy

Sept. 2008 — Cartilage removed from left knee

April 2010 — Meniscus tear in right knee

Jan. 2011 — Arthroscopic surgery on both knees

Brandon Roy is perhaps one of the most beloved Trail Blazers in the history of the franchise. After being drafted in 2006, and leading the team out of the "Jail-Blazer" era, he had to make the tough decision to retire at the young age of 28. His degenerative knees prevented Rip City from seeing their superstar ever play to his full potential.

Photo via Wikipedia (image cropped)
Prev Next

Jacquizz Rodgers

Nov. 2008 — Grade II separation of the acromioclavicular joint

During the second to last game in 2008 Jacquizz Rodgers suffered a separated shoulder that ended his season. Unfortunately, this meant that he wasn't able to play in the Civil War, which was perhaps the biggest game of the year for the Beavers. If the Beavers had been able to defeat the Ducks they would've been able to book their tickets to play in the Rose Bowl. Instead, they went to the Sun Bowl where they defeated the Pittsburgh Panthers.

Photo via Wikipedia (image cropped)
Prev Next

James Rodgers

Oct. 2009 — Torn left ACL

After participating in only 4 games during the 2009 season Rodgers went down with a torn ACL while playing against #9 Arizona. This couldn't have come at a worse time for Rodgers considering he was expected to have a breakout season. Rodgers, who was a senior at the time, was able to end his career at Oregon State as the career leader in all-purpose yards.

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Prev Next

Joel Pryzbilla

Dec. 2009 — Ruptured right patella tendon and dislocated patella

In December of 2009 the Trail Blazers' backup center, Joel Pryzbilla, was lost for the season with a ruptured and dislocated patella. This was a huge blow to the Trailblazers' frontcourt because they had already lost Oden for the season a few weeks before. Pryzbilla was also the team's defensive anchor who provided an inside presence. "The Vanilla Gorilla" was sorely missed for the rest of the year.

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Prev Next

LaMichael James

Oct. 2011 — Dislocated right elbow

The 2011 season couldn't have started any better for LaMichael James. After the first game James became Oregon's career rushing leader, surpassing Derek Loville. During the second game he rushed for over 200 yards against Missouri State. Unfortunately, James' year was slowed by a dislocated elbow suffered against Cal. Luckily for Duck fans he was able to return to end the season.

Photo via Facebook (image cropped)
Prev Next

Nate Costa

Nov. 2010 —Torn Right ACL

After suffering a multitude of knee injuries throughout his career at Oregon Costa was forced to officially retire from football after tearing his ACL for the third time in agame against Washington. Although Costa's career was hobbled by injuries many of his teammates looked to him as their leader. Oregon's coaching staff referred to Costa as the "heart and soul" of the 2010 team that won the Rose Bowl.

Photo via Addictedtoquack (image cropped)
Prev Next

Sean Mannion

Oct. 2012 — Torn Left Meniscus

During the beginning of the 2012-2013 season, Sean Mannion was enjoying one of his best as a Beaver. Unfortunately, he tore his left meniscus against Washington State that resulted in him missing around half the season. With Mannion leading the way the Beavers had the Pac-12's fourth rated offense, averaging 459.5 yeards per game. With Mannion sidelined Cody Vaz became the starting quarterback

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Prev Next

Marcus Mariota

Oct. 2013 — Partial MCL Tear

Marcus Mariota is widely regarded as one of the greatest Oregon Duck quarterbacks to ever play at Autzen. Unfortunately a knee injury hobbled his sophomore season. After Mariota suffered a partial MCL tear against UCLA he conintued to play the remainder of the season. With Mariota's knee not allowing him to be as mobile as he was accustomed to teams were able to take advantage. In the weeks following the injury the Ducks suffered losses to Stanford and Arizona. Duck fans everywhere would like to know what that season woud've loked like if Mariota had stayed healthy.

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Prev Next

CJ McCollum

Oct. 2013 — Broken fifth Metatarsal In Left Foot

After being taken 10th overall during the 2013 NBA Draft the shooting guard out of Lehigh wasn't able to start his career the way many had hoped. After breaking the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot the rookie wasn't able to take the court until January of 2014. Before the injury McCollum was in consideration for playing time behind Lillard. 

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Alex Morgan

Oct. 2013 — Stress reaction in talus bone

During the 2013 season Morgan suffered an injury that doctors misdiagnosed as a mildly sprained ankle. After a few additional tests were performed it turned out that Morgan had suffered a far more serious injury. She actually suffered a stress reaction in the talus bone that put her immediate future with Team USA in question. After rehabbing for 7 months Morgan was able to make a full recovery.

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Bralon Addison

April 2014 — Torn left ACL

After exceeding expectations as a freshman and sophomore at the University of Oregon Addison was expecting big things from his junior year. Unfortunately, Addison suffered a torn ACL during last year's spring practice that kept him sidelined the entire year. Without Addison in the lineup the receiving core never lived up to their full potential. If he had been able to play this season the National Championship may have wielded a different outcome.

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Prev Next

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu

Dec. 2014 — Torn ACL

In preparation for the first ever college football playoffs Ekpre-Olomu ended up tearing his ACL during a routine practice. This was a huge blow to the Ducks considering Ekpre-Olomu was one of the team's better defenders. He was also one of the best corners in the country who many analysists expected to be selected as high as the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

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Prev Next

Wesley Matthews

March 2015 — Torn left achilles

Just 2 months before Matthews suffered a torn achilles he had become the Trailblazers' all-time leader in 3-point field goals made. It looked as though the Trailblazers were poised to make a deep playoff run. Things took a drastic turn when Matthews was lost for the season. With the team in a 0-2 hole against the Memphis Grizzlies it doesn't look as though they will be making it to the second round of the playoffs this year.

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