Keep the Gang Together

Eric Gay/Associated Press

At the close of the 2014-15 NBA season, the Blazers will see a number of key players become unrestricted free agents. It’s a must that general manager Neil Olshey and the front office keep this team together.

Aldridge, Matthews and Lopez headline Portland’s free-agent class, followed by Robinson and Wright, while Blake has a player option for next year. Barton, Freeland and Victor Claver are restricted free agents.

For obvious reasons, it’s ideal that the first three players return. Aldridge, the Blazers’ No. 2 all-time scorer and career leader in defensive rebounds, should be the focal point of the offseason (thanks, genius).

His importance to the franchise goes without saying, as Aldridge is one of the best offensive frontcourt players in the NBA. He’s arguably the top power forward in all of basketball, providing scoring, rebounding, passing and defense that is crucial to Portland’s success.

He’s already stated his desire to return, per Freeman of The Oregonian:

I’m happy to stay, happy to be here, happy with the direction the team has gone the last year or two.  [Not signing an extension] has no impact on my interest in staying in Portland. I just want to get a five-year deal. I feel like that’s the best decision on my part. I want to be the best Blazer — ever. If I stay the rest of my career, I should be able to catch Clyde by then. I should be able to leave a mark on a big-time franchise that is going to be seen forever. And I will be able to say I played here my whole career. This city has embraced me and grown with me. I have so much history, it just makes sense to stay.

Breathe a tentative sigh of relief, Rip City.

Matthews hasn’t been as explicit in his intentions, but the fiercely competitive marksman would be foolish to turn Portland away.

There isn’t an NBA team that can offer him as much as the Blazers, as he has a cemented starting spot, a very forthright role in the offense and a soon-to-be piece of Blazers history to his name.

At this point in time, Matthews has swished through 759 three-point field goals for Portland, trailing Terry Porter, the all-time leader, by only 14 made shots. Knowing his prowess from beyond the arc, he may very well reach that mark in the next two or three games, so keep tabs on it.

Some teams will absolutely throw money Matthews’ way in hope of securing his services, but he’s a perfect fit for this group. He has a fortified role, is a part of a winning culture and is simply adored by the fanbase.

Why leave?

The same can be said for Lopez, who has fit in seamlessly with the city and team. His physical and hustling style of play is perfect for the Blazers in the paint, and he connects effortlessly with fans.

Per Freeman, Lopez shed some light on his plan in free agency, saying “I really love it here. I feel like I’ve really found a niche. Nothing is set in stone, but I’m comfortable here, I’m happy here.”

His teammates have raved about him, with Lillard calling him “selfless” and saying that Lopez “always puts other people before himself.” Aldridge continued the high praise:

He’s so unselfish and it just rubs off on everybody. The fact that he goes out every night and doesn’t care about shots and things like that, it just makes guys play harder and want to be like him. He’s definitely the key to the chemistry in our starting lineup, because he doesn’t care about shots or even stats, he just wants to win.

Once again, it’s a situation of one party adoring the other and vice versa, which raises the question of why they would want to go separate ways. Lopez fits in Portland, both as a player and a person, and has provided the Blazers with everything they missed prior to his arrival.

It should be the front office’s top priority to retain the services of all three, before anything or anyone else. Some big-name players will be available on the open market, but the Blazers are all about being overachievers.

The chemistry and comradery this group has built together is understated, as few NBA teams can boast as much from its starting lineup. Each player knows his role, is terrific at it and is competitive to a fault until the final buzzer sounds.

Get it done, Olshey.

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