The Portland Trail Blazers‘ free-agency period got off to a quick start, but it won’t have truly begun until their biggest star makes his decision. 

General manager Neil Olshey kicked off his adjustment of the roster with the commitment to sign Al-Farouq Aminu, nabbing the small forward on a four-year deal worth $30 million, first reported by Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski.

The Blazers have been connected to a number of free agents since then, but the biggest domino to fall is one that stands 6’11”. LaMarcus Aldridge, the face of the franchise for almost a decade, could potentially depart Portland and sign elsewhere.

It would signal the start of a new era for Rip City, but it can’t officially get underway until Aldridge makes his decision. Until then, those rumored to be looking at the Blazers as their potential team for next season may not be reached out to. 

As such, a few of these rumors might only make sense if Aldridge stays or leaves. In any case, let’s get buying and selling.

Portland Could Look to Fill Aldridge’s Shoes

If the all-time leader in rebounds does bolt for greener pastures, the front office may look to tab Greg Monroe as his replacement. It may look to add him even if Aldridge stays.

The 6’11”, 250-pound power forward played the last five seasons with the Detroit Pistons, acting as a consistent and efficient scorer and rebounder. Monroe averaged 15.9 points on 49.6 percent shooting last season along with 10.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists.

He’s still just 25 years of age, and his interest seems to be swayed between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Blazers, per a tweet from Wojnarowski, who reported that both teams had “made significant inroads.” 

Monroe plays a different style than Aldridge, lacking the jumper that makes the latter so deadly. He’s much more prone to post-ups and shots around the rim but is excellent in both situations. He has great footwork and is solid running the floor.

Monroe is also an adept passer, which would allow him to play the inside-out role that Aldridge does so well, posting and dishing to an open shooter or to a cutting wing or big.

Let’s get the pessimism out of the way: Monroe would be a fine stand-in for Portland at power forward. He has all the necessary skills to fit within the offense, as well as the youth to play alongside Damian Lillard for years to come.

If we’re being more optimistic, the Blazers could feasibly add Monroe alongside Aldridge. Per a tweet from the Oregonian‘s Jason Quick, the team’s “Plan A” is to add both big men to max contracts. Such a pairing wouldn’t bring a whole lot of defense, but the inside-out passing on either side of the paint would be difficult for other teams to contain.

In either case, Portland would be an excellent fit for Monroe. Keeping Aldridge in the process is considerably desirable, but adding the former Piston won’t hinge on who may soon be a former Blazer.

Verdict: Buying.

Rumors Surrounding Last Year’s Core Blazers

Outside of Monroe, Portland hasn’t been linked to many free agents. It’s clear the team awaits the moves of its starting players before moving on.

Wesley Matthews on His Way Out?

The Dallas Mavericks, Sacramento Kings and Toronto Raptors have all been reported to be chasing guard Wesley Matthews, per a tweet from ESPN’s Marc Stein. Grantland’s Zach Lowe tweeted that the Mavs were considered a “front-runner” for the sharpshooter’s services for next season, though that may reach an impasse.

Matthews is wanting at least $15 million per season, though Dallas is rumored to be offering $12 million, per a tweet from USA Today‘s Sam Amick. Concurrently, the Kings made moves to free up cap space and are now considered to be “very strongly in the mix,” per a tweet from TNT’s David Aldridge. 

It’s difficult to predict how Matthews will bounce back from his ruptured Achilles and what his contract should look like. But he seems to be adamant in his approach, and the Blazers haven’t been one of the names circulating around him.

Matthews’ days in Portland look to be over.

Verdict: Buying.

Robin Lopez Following Suit?

Big man Robin Lopez is also an unrestricted free agent, drawing interest from the New Orleans Pelicans, the Milwaukee Bucks and the New York Knicks, per a report by Shams Charania of RealGM. The first of those three makes sense given that new Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry instructed Lopez during his first four seasons with the Phoenix Suns.

The Bucks and the Knicks both need a reputable name in the middle, especially one who possesses the intangibles and defensive play of Lopez.

With New Orleans having recently re-signed centers Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca, per Wojnarowski and Stein, respectively, the chances of Lopez accepting a lesser role than the other two teams can offer is unlikely. 

If Aldridge leaves, the Blazers could re-up with Lopez and pair him with Monroe for a similar, albeit lesser, combo of what worked this past season. RoLo has always been adamant in a desire to return, saying he’d be “very open” and “would love” to stay in Portland, per Sean Meagher of the Oregonian

Again, this may come down to the decisions of others. If the Blazers need someone at center, expect Lopez to return. If the front office goes all-in for a Monroe-Aldridge pairing, he’ll probably be in a different jersey next season.

That hair should stay the same, though.

Verdict: Buying and selling, depending on the circumstances surrounding Aldridge.

LaMarcus Aldridge Looking to Leave Portland?

Ah, the one and only.

After many teams seemed to continuously leapfrog each other as Aldridge’s preferred team, the choices have been narrowed early on. The Phoenix Suns and the Houston Rockets both made impressionable pitches, per Amick and Wojnarowski, respectively, though both would need to make some moves for a max-level contract to be possible.

The Rockets would appeal with their All-Star tandem of James Harden and Dwight Howard, leaving Aldridge to be the stretch 4 as a part of a substantial Big Three. The Suns are a surprise contender for his services but have a roster in place that appeals to Aldridge’s style.

Yet it would seem the San Antonio Spurs are the only true team to sway Aldridge’s interest away from Portland. Wojnarowski reported the presentation by the Spurs was “powerful” in a tweet, emphasizing they are “front-runners.” 

Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports tweeted that the pitch was headlined by head coach Gregg Popovich alongside Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.

The allure of playing under and around Hall of Fame-level talent could be too much to pass up, though Wojnarowski, per a tweet from Paul Garcia of Project Spurs, noted that the fifth contract year of $27 million the Blazers can offer is keeping things on hold.

If Portland is able to secure the services of Monroe, the roster for the 2015-16 season would look very appealing. It’s already younger and much more athletic with the additions of Gerald Henderson, Noah Vonleh, Mason Plumlee and Aminu, and it could be arguably deeper if the front office is able to net another wing player and a respectable backup point guard.

The Blazers aren’t out of the race just yet, but the Spurs could have the edge here.

Verdict: Buying if it’s San Antonio, selling if it’s any other team.

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