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Rip City reunion? Blazers could bring LaMarcus Aldridge back to Portland

The San Antonio Spurs have decided to part ways with Aldridge, who spent his first nine seasons in Portland.
Credit: Steve Dykes
Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, front, greets a former teammate, San Antonio Spurs center LaMarcus Aldridge, before an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Former Portland Trail Blazers big man LaMarcus Aldridge, a seven-time All-Star who played his first nine seasons in Portland, is available. On Wednesday, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said the Spurs and Aldridge mutually decided to part ways. Aldridge will be away from the team while they attempt to find a trade partner.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Spurs “are working on trade scenarios with LaMarcus Aldridge and have been engaged on several fronts.” He also reported that the Spurs are confident they’ll find a trade partner, perhaps as early as in the next week, and avoid a buyout.

After the news broke, Blazers fans and media on Twitter began speculating about what it would take to bring Aldridge back to Portland and whether the Blazers should attempt to make such a move.

That was one of the main topics of conversation during this week's episode of KGW's 3-on-3 Blazers podcast. KGW sports anchor Orlando Sanchez and digital producers Jared Cowley and Max Barr discussed Aldridge, the pending return of CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic from injury, made predictions for the next four games and played another thrilling game of Rip It!

PODCAST: Should the Blazers bring back LaMarcus Aldridge?

Should the Blazers trade for Aldridge?

The challenge with completing a trade for Aldridge is his contract, which pays him $24 million in the final year of the deal. Other than teams that carry a massive trade exception or significant cap space, a team would need to send back a minimum of $19 million in contracts to complete the trade.

What does that mean for the Blazers? If the Blazers made a trade for Aldridge in which they sent back $19 million in expiring contracts, it would push Portland over the luxury tax threshold. It's unclear if the Blazers are comfortable doing that this season.

If the Blazers were to try to trade for Aldridge, let’s start with the assumption that the following players are off-limits in a trade for Aldridge: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Robert Covington, Derrick Jones Jr. and Gary Trent Jr.

Looking at the rest of the roster, any trade scenario would likely include Rodney Hood’s $10 million contract. The Blazers would then need to put together a combination of players whose contracts add up to $9 million or more to make the trade work.

Hood, Zach Collins and Enes Kanter for Aldridge?

Hood, Collins, Nassir Little and Harry Giles for Aldridge?

Hood, Collins, Anfernee Simons and Harry Giles for Aldridge?

It’s clear to see how challenging it is for the Blazers to make a trade that makes sense. Are the Blazers willing to give up young players like Collins, Little or Simons? Would the Blazers trade Kanter, a player who has been so instrumental to the Blazers' success so far this season?

It seems unlikely the Blazers will acquire Aldridge through trade. The cost appears too high, either giving up important young players or valuable veterans. There’s also no assurance that a trade like any of the three scenarios outlined above would improve the Blazers enough to make the transaction worth it.

What if Aldridge hits the buyout market?

Other teams will face similar challenges in putting together a trade offer for Aldridge. It’s possible the Spurs won’t be able to find a trade and will eventually negotiate a buyout. If that happens, Aldridge will have no shortage of suitors eager to sign him to a veteran's minimum salary for the rest of the season.

In that scenario, the Blazers would be competing with teams like the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers and other contenders who would love to get Aldridge at that price. While that’s a daunting task, Portland has one advantage in that Aldridge has played in Portland before and said last year that he wanted to finish his career either in San Antonio or back in Portland.

"As I think about it, I think I would be cool with it ending in two places, either with San Antonio or in Portland," Aldridge said last year. "I think either one would be fine with me. I feel like I’ve made some good memories in San Antonio. I feel like I’m in a really good family in San Antonio. They understand me. I understand them. So, I like that. I feel I have a lot of history in Portland. So, going back there to finish would be fine also. I’m perfectly fine with finishing my career in San Antonio riding it out until my next chapter, or if things have to change there, and if they decide to go young, then I wouldn’t mind going to Portland."

RELATED: Report: Lillard, Aldridge hope to reunite as teammates in Portland

Financially, Aldridge returning to the Blazers after a buyout with the Spurs would work. Portland would sign him to the veteran’s minimum for the remainder of the season, which would keep the Blazers under the luxury tax line. They also have an open roster spot – the team has carried 14 players all season – so they wouldn’t need to cut anyone to make it work.

If Aldridge is bought out by the Spurs, there’s a good chance he could sign with the Blazers if Portland is interested.

Would Aldridge help the Blazers?

Aldridge is 35 years old and approaching 38,000 minutes in the NBA, including the playoffs. That's a lot of mileage. This has been the worst season of Aldridge’s career. He's averaging 13.7 points, his lowest mark since his rookie season, and a career low 4.5 rebounds. He’s lost a step defensively and when he returned from injury last month, he came off the bench for the first time since his rookie season in Portland.

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A bench role at the center position may be Aldridge’s best role going forward. It's possible that Aldridge doesn't have the speed or lateral quickness to guard power forwards anymore. But he can certainly anchor a bench unit’s defense in the paint while stretching the floor out to the 3-point line (he’s shooting 36% on 3.6 3-point attempts per game this season). It's unclear if Aldridge is willing to accept a reserve role the way Carmelo Anthony has done this season in Portland.

The Blazers already have a backup center in Kanter, who has filled in ably for the injured Jusuf Nurkic. Nurkic is expected to return soon. If the Blazers acquire Aldridge, does that push Kanter out of the rotation? If Aldridge's best role is at backup center, it would. Even though Aldridge is not the player he once was, he’s still better than Kanter.

If Kanter lost his role as the backup center after all he’s done for the team this season, would it cause a rift in the locker room? Kanter has been nothing but a model teammate during both of his stays in Portland, so it’s hard to see that happening, especially with a leader like Damian Lillard guiding the team, but it’s something that should be considered.

The verdict

The return of Aldridge would be a great story line. Things didn't end on the best terms when Aldridge left Portland. But he has since mended his relationship with Lillard and returning to finish his career in Portland alongside Lillard has a poetic ring to it.

For the past two years, Aldridge hasn’t been shy about expressing his desire to return to Portland. “I keep telling [Lillard] I’m going to come back and finish [in Portland],” Aldridge told Jason Quick of The Athletic in 2019. “That’s something him and I have talked about—playing together again.” Is it time to make that happen?

Completing a trade to bring Aldridge back to Portland may not be the way to go. Giving up a veteran contributor like Kanter or young players like Collins, Little or Simons doesn’t make a lot of sense. But if Aldridge reaches the buyout market, the Blazers should attempt to sign him.