Reacting to the Aldridge Extension

SBN’s excellent Portland Trail Blazers blog, Blazersedge, weighs in on the news of Aldridge’s new contract:

This is a solid move for the franchise, though not without its risks. There’s no doubt Aldridge deserved a ton of money. His offensive and physical development have already established him as a solid player and a good bet for the future. He’s lingering in the space between a good and very good new-age power forward with definite potential to become great. He’s a good fit with Greg Oden as well. For all of these reasons and more the Blazers had to retain him. Both LaMarcus and his agent knew this and knew what he was worth and they got it, with perhaps a little frosting thrown in. He’s as close to a max contract as you can get without actually being maxed…just below the expectations of a superstar, almost all the pay.

The risk here is twofold. First, the Blazers are definitely paying Aldridge based on future expectations. That always carried uncertainty with it. The new salary puts LaMarcus into the top 5% of league earners. It’s a potential ramp-up for Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett level compensation in his next contract. He’s not that player yet nor, truth be told, even that kind of prospect yet. He’s very good at the things he does well but if the Blazers need rebounding, passing, or more straight-up defense he’s not going to be the guy to provide it. This brings up the second risk. If anything happens to Greg Oden then LaMarcus loses his counter-balance and suddenly looks overpaid as the not-quite-superstar trying to carry the frontcourt load himself. That contract is going to be hard to move even when it comes close to expiration, as LaMarcus will be looking for at least a continuation, if not the ramped-up raise we just mentioned. He is almost certainly going to be a Blazer for five full years now, for better or worse. The only exception would be if there were already a superstar deal in the works for which LaMarcus’ salary and potential were the ballast. But that seems unlikely.

Whether this was a good, let alone an ideal, move for the Blazers is a moot point. It was necessary and that’s the end of the story. As long as the team stays healthy around him and we can let LaMarcus do the things he does best it should turn out great for all involved.

A lot of good stuff there, and for my money, it’s tough to say whether this deal will be judged a success, and ultimately, it’s out of Lamarcus Aldridge’s hands. Because yes, he did get overpaid—but if the Blazers win 55 games this year and continue their progression from “up-and-coming” to realistic contenders, the deal makes sense.

Does that make sense?

I’m thinking of the Rashard Lewis deal, here—really the gold standard in bloated contracts. At the time, that deal did not make sense. But when you looked up last year and saw Lewis as a key contributor for the Magic in the finals, suddenly, it wasn’t quite as bad. Still overpaid the guy, but hey, can you argue with the results?

On the other end of the spectrum you have the Chicago Bulls, a team that steadfastly refused to overpay for Ben Gordon. He’s an undersized shooting guard that dominates the ball, takes shots in high volume, and doesn’t score very efficiently. In other words, not worth 55 million dollars. And yet, he was the soul of their team, and a linchpin for any success that they’re going to have in the next few years.

Solely as a player, Gordon was not worth what Detroit paid him, but as a piece of the Chicago franchise, he was worth every penny. Without Gordon, the Bulls basically forfeited the 2009-10 season, sitting content with John Salmons and Luol Deng as their primary scorers on offense. Losing him forced Chicago to, at least for a moment, take a step back.

And that’s sort of what we’re talking about with Aldridge. If the Blazers are able to take the next step as a franchise, then Aldridge getting overpaid by about $10-15 million won’t seem nearly as bad. And had they not extended him, they would have risked a Ben Gordon-type situation, whereby they jerk around a player that, for all his shortcomings relative to league superstars, is still a critical building block for their franchise.

It seems odd to applaud any team that gives a player too much money, but it’s true: by extending Aldridge and meeting his demands, Portland took a crucial step toward protecting the foundation they’ve worked so hard to build. Will that foundation lead to championships? Hard to say, and that’s a much bigger question. But by extending Aldridge, Portland ensured that it’s question we’ll be asking for at least the next few years.

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