Is LaMarcus Aldridge good enough to lead a team to a championship?
This is the question all Portland Trail Blazers fans need to be asking themselves. In regards to this team’s future, specifically Aldridge’s pending free agency, this is the single most important offseason aspect that needs to be addressed.
Let’s say the answer is yes. Aldridge is good enough. This means the Blazers need to get better around him, defensively and offensively, to get to a place where Aldridge can lead the team to it’s first championship since 1977. Logical, right?
The biggest issue in that process is, of course, resigning the All-Star power forward this offseason. Aldridge has come out and said that he wants to be the best Blazer of all time. For that to happen, he would have to sign a big, wallet-stuffing deal from Portland, who can offer him the most lucrative deal.
Knowledgeable speculation leads one to believe that Aldridge will sign a deal with the Blazers that should keep him here until right before his career ends, but anything can happen in free agency. Of course, the opposite speculation leads us with the other option—Aldridge leaving Portland. This kind of talk includes he-saids-she-saids and some of the most unreliable, untimely and dramatic noise.
In this case, speculation leads us nowhere except straight into drama-filled sports circus with the likes of the Kardashian and Hilton families as ringmasters.
Let’s ignore that kind of speculation, for obvious reasons.
Let’s say Aldridge does sign the deal this summer, as he has said himself.
If the Blazers’ management and fan base agree that Aldridge can win a championship, then Portland’s window starts now. Right now. Because Aldridge is not getting any younger. And even with a style of play that should age relatively well, the power forward only has about the length of this upcoming contract to play consistently at the level he is at now.
This becomes the duty of general manager Neil Olshey, and it is arguably the most important aspect of the Blazers championship window. But while it could solve all Blazers problems, it also opens up more questions.
The rain bros. The backcourt. Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews.
Lillard was exposed post Wesley Matthews’ Achilles injury. He had a very poor beginning to the playoffs and was not in any way, shape or form the Lillard whom Blazers fans are used to seeing. This cannot be the case in the future. Lillard has to at least show up on the defensive side of the ball—with Matthews or without.
Matthews is also an upcoming free agent. The heart and soul of this Blazers team, his effect on Portland as a basketball team is visible. Retaining him will be different with the injury, but it is hard not to argue that the guard nicknamed Ironman is one of those surrounding pieces that is necessary in the Blazers and Aldridge’s pursuit of the Larry O’ Brien trophy.
All other assets of this team need to be addressed as well—the frontcourt pieces of Nicolas Batum and Robin Lopez (another free agent), and the bench. Championship windows do not stay open long and sometimes don’t even open at all. If Aldridge can win a championship, he needs to be surrounded with the correct pieces. Not just pieces that are already in place, being adjusted and assumed as worthy of being called championship assets.
What does that mean? Quick development from players like Lillard, Batum and Lopez over the next few years. Quick development from the bench. If that isn’t going to lead to championship basketball, Olshey needs to make moves.
Fifty win seasons are great. But no one wants to be stuck in a perpetual 50-win first-round-and-out playoff team. So why is that the brand of Blazers basketball that has existed in the latest stretch of Portland playoff appearances?
Answer the question—is Aldridge good enough to lead a team to championship? If the answer is yes, like it supposedly has been, then go win a championship. The window is closing.