Saturday, November 27, 2021
Nov. 27, 2021

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After Aldridge, Blazers must once again rediscover identity

By , Columbian Sports Editor

One of Greek mythology’s most tragic characters is Sisyphus — forever cursed to push a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down time after time.

When pondering life after LaMarcus Aldridge, it’s easy to imagine the Portland Trail Blazers in a similar Sisyphean predicament.

Once again, just as the franchise reached the cusp of being a consistent force in the Western Conference, the Blazers must find a new identity.

Once again, a summer will be filled more with uncertainty than anticipation.

Such is the curse of many teams in today’s NBA, where players move frequently and top free agents gravitate toward a handful of markets.

But it stings more in Portland, where the basketball team has undergone more rebuilding in the past decade than the Pearl District.

Thursday, an executive with a Western Conference team told The Columbian’s Erik Gundersen that Aldridge has informed the Blazers he will not re-sign in Portland.

Over nine seasons, Aldridge has bridged several eras of Blazers basketball.

He arrived while the wreckage of the Jail Blazers was still smoldering.

He saw the franchise rise with Brandon Roy and fall when the guard’s knees gave out.

He was the centerpiece of a resurgence that saw Portland win its first playoff series in 14 years.

And now with his departure, Aldridge brings another era of Blazers basketball to an end.

What will Portland’s roster look like when the 2015-16 season starts? It will be far different from the group that endeared itself to the city over the past two seasons.

In making his intentions known before free agency begins July 1, Aldridge has let Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey get a jump on the re-building process.

It started on Wednesday when Nic Batum was traded to Charlotte for veteran Gerald Henderson and 19-year-old 6-foot-10 forward Noah Vonleh, who was Olshey’s real target in the deal.

It took another step Thursday when Portland acquired center Mason Plumlee and rookie guard Pat Connaughton from Brooklyn for Steve Blake and the freshly drafted Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

And the revamping will continue this summer. Olshey, now in his fourth year in Portland, will firmly put his stamp on the roster. He will pursue its own wish-list of free agents, with Kevin Love reportedly at the top.

Uncertain is whether Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez will return. Matthews is reportedly seeking $15 million a year, quite a price for someone just a few months removed from a ruptured achilles tendon.

Lopez has said he would “love” to return to Portland but left open the possibility of playing elsewhere. Boston has shown interest and has enough salary-cap flexibility to give the 7-footer a big pay hike over the $6.1 million he made last season.

So what does that leave Portland with? Simply, this is now Damian Lillard’s team.

With Lillard, a top-five point guard in the NBA, the Blazers are far from starting at the bottom of the mountain.

Last season, C.J. McCollum and Meyers Leonard showed flashes of being significant contributors in a future Blazers lineup. Their continued growth could determine whether Aldridge’s departure is a minor slide or an avalanche on the journey toward the summit.

Until them, sit back and enjoy an offseason of rebuilding that could be a wild ride. Pay no attention to the deja vu you might experience.