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Lee-to-Portland Rumors Don't Add Up

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As a promising young player and restricted free agent on a team working to maximize its space for the summer of 2010, David Lee's name is likely to make plenty of appearances in trade rumors in the weeks and months to come.  But a recent hot topic potential destination for the young power forward leaves me wondering.

Both Newsday and the New York Daily News reported last week on interest on the Blazers' end in acquiring David Lee and possibly imminent trade talks between Portland, the Knicks and the Clippers.  The Oregonian's Jason Quick responded with a report that there is no validity to the rumor, but we're still curious here at the Babble (and further, it's been a nearly two weeks since we wrote about the Blazers).

As enticing and productive a player as Lee is, making an in-season move for him hardly seems to make sense for a team in the Blazers' situation.

Lee is no doubt an attractive target.  He is a grinder, banging the boards hard and always scrapping for loose balls.  He has a nose for the basketball and doesn't take plays off on the glass.  At the offensive end, Lee understands his physical capabilities and doesn't try to do to much.  But he constantly seems to be in the right place to put back a miss or grab the ball off a cut to finish a dunk.  He has become increasingly accurate on short jumpers of eight to ten feet, and he otherwise limits his shots to even higher percentage looks.  That's a big part of his career 57.1 shooting percentage.  Starting regularly for the first time in his career, Lee has produced in Mike D'Antoni's uptempo system, averaging 14.8 points and 11 rebounds per game while continuing to shoot a shade better than 57 percent from the field.

The issue is that Lee isn't going to come cheap this off-season.  The Knicks have by all accounts been quite happy with him during his three and a half seasons in town.  It stands to reason that a desire to avoid handing out long-term deals before 2010 is the primary factor in any attempt to move him on the team's end.  While he is a great back-up, Lee has been a good starter in New York and has the ability to continue to be solid elsewhere, though any pace change is likely to deflate his statistical totals a bit.  No matter where teams around the league believe he will fit in their rotations, Lee will demand starter money this off-season.

The obvious concern with that for the Blazers is that they already have a young starting power forward, one whom they expect to be entrenched at the position for years to come.  Though not as tough or as much of a bruiser, LaMarcus Aldridge is taller, longer, quicker and younger than David Lee.  Though he is markedly less efficient from the field, Aldridge has a considerably more expansive offensive repertoire, which includes a mid-range jumper and a back-to-the-basket game, neither of which is possessed by Lee.  Aldridge has a much higher ceiling as far as being a scorer is concerned. 

Though he isn't the beast that Lee is on the boards, LMA grabs nearly seven boards per game and comes off a sophomore season in which he pulled down 7.6 per outing.  Aldridge is also a superior defender to Lee, who does a poor job on the interior.  The numbers against Lee are somewhat inflated because of the Knicks' porous team defense and the fact that Lee has been used more as a badly undersized center than at his natural power forward spot this season, but they are worrisome nonetheless: 60.1 percent effective shooting for opposing power forwards and 53.8 eFG for centers.  Lee doesn't do a great job getting position on the inside, and he doesn't have the quickness or length to make up for that.  Opposing power forwards are shooting 52.4 percent eFG against Aldridge, but his length and ability to help underneath makes him more of a defensive presence.

The point here isn't so much to levy a judgment on the comparative worths of David Lee and LaMarcus Aldridge but to indicate that the Blazers likely don't have room for both players.  Lee is most likely going to cost too much this summer to have around as a reserve power forward, especially if Aldridge proves once and for all that he is the franchise guy many expected him to be when the Blazers acquired him on draft night 2006 (the night he was picked second overall by Chicago). 

All that in mind, it seems silly for the Blazers to move anyone of any value to them for a player who could well be a rental.  David Lee is a nice player but by no means an acquisition that turns these Blazers into championship material this year, and the Blazers are still figuring out just how much reserve point guards Sergio Rodriguez and Jerryd Bayless are worth to them (both names have come up in the Lee rumor mill). 

Further, even if one were to judge Lee the better power forward if the two were in a vacuum (thus making the idea of acquiring him and then using Aldridge as a trade asset more realistic), Aldridge seems the better fit for the Portland roster going forward.  Greg Oden is going to be a low block player, and LMA (who still has plenty of room to grow as a player) seems most comfortable spreading the floor from the high post.  When both youngsters get closer to maximizing their potential, they should be a dangerous duo, and their length could be scary defensively.  Having Lee alongside Oden would leave the Blazers with a second frontcourt player working nearly exclusively in the low post.  Lee doesn't even have a strong enough back-to-the-basket game to make up for the likelihood of his unnecessarily clogging up the middle at the offensive end for the Blazers.

Between monetary issues, the fact that the Blazers probably aren't giving up on their current power forward anytime soon and the issue of fits for the Portland roster in years to come, there seems to be little sense in Portland parting with any of its current assets to get a restricted free agent-to-be in David Lee.  Here's guessing it doesn't happen.

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Attendance note: Long as we're talking about the Blazers and a member of the Knicks, seems fitting to note (and yes, the timing of the piece is coincidental) that I'll be at MSG for Wizards-Knicks tomorrow and IZOD for Blazers-Nets on Thursday.  Any other CB members going to either, feel free to come on by and say hello!