After securing a place on the All-NBA Third Team, along with being selected as an All-Star for the third consecutive season, Portland extended a maximum contract offer to power forward LaMarcus Aldridge.
Even though he can’t sign the five-year $108 million contract extension until next summer, the Trail Blazers are determined to keep the 28-year-old forward as the centerpiece to their franchise.
The 6-foot-11 Aldridge is entering the final season of a five-year $65 million agreement he made in 2010.
Perhaps after watching the saga unfold surrounding Kevin Love, the All-Star power forward from Minnesota, a team that plays in the Northwest Division, like Portland, has motivated the team to avoid the circumstances of being pressured make a trade or lose him for nothing in free agency.
A year ago, Aldridge stopped short of requesting a trade away from the team last summer, but made his frustrations with the lack of winning the team has experienced public.
Any hesitancy he had about the organization going forward were quickly erased by the emergence of point guard Damian Lillard.
The 23-year-old followed up his Rookie of the Year campaign by establishing himself as the perfect compliment to Aldridge.
Lillard provided steady leadership in the back court, developed a pick-and-roll chemistry with Aldridge and was able to take over in crunch time when necessary.
In his three previous appearances in the playoffs, Aldridge never advanced past the first round, but in the first two games, he almost tallied enough points by himself to lead the Trail Blazers to victory.
His 89 points in the first two games of the series were the most of any player in the last 50 years other than Michael Jordan (112 points in 1986 and 102 points 1988) and Jerry West (101 points in 1965).
When Houston started focusing more on containing Aldridge, the offense was then carried by Lillard.
With advancement on the line and Portland trailing by two points, Lillard lofted a jumper from 25-feet away from the rim. His 3-point shot hit nothing but net, allowing the Trail Blazers to advance in the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.
The eventual champion Spurs dispatched Portland in five games, as the duo of Lillard and Aldridge combined to score 44 points in the final game of the season at the Moda Center to avoid being swept.
While the team failed to advance to the Western Conference finals, the season reaffirmed Aldridge as a premier power forward in the league and the Trail Blazers as a legitimate contender in the loaded Western Conference.
In his eighth season, Aldridge posted the best numbers of his career, averaging 23.2 points and 11.1 rebounds per game, joining Love, Al Jefferson, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis as the only players in the league to average over 20 points and 10 rebounds a game.
For the team to keep progressing, much of the improvement will have to come internally, or through free agency.
For the first time since 1999, the Trail Blazers failed to select anyone in the NBA Draft.
If the team exercises a team option on Robin Lopez, the team will still be approximately $18 million under the salary cap.
The priority for the team has to be adding some depth to the roster.
For the second consecutive season, the Portland bench has ranked last in the league in scoring average, posting just 23.6 points per game.
Of the starting five, only Aldridge failed to start every game of the regular season, while all five players were on the court for 2,500 minutes or more.
Mo Williams, the sixth man on the team, is an unrestricted free agent, so resigning him may be one of the priorities for the team once free agency begins on July 1.
The other priority is clear, keeping Aldridge around for as long as possible, all that is left is for his signature to appear on the maximum contract when he is finally eligible to sign it next season.