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Big year ahead for LaMarcus Aldridge

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - LaMarcus Aldridge, leaving the court at Moda Center after a Game 6 victory over Houston last season, is on track to play out the final year of his Trail Blazers contract, which would position him for a new, lucrative free-agent deal with Portland.LaMarcus Aldridge looked a bit out of his element Wednesday during a photo shoot at the Buck Studio in Northwest Portland.

Maybe it was the somewhat preppy get-up -- Panama hat, T-shirt and banana shorts as he posed for an advertising campaign for Vita Coco, a national coconut water beverage brand.

Aldridge wasn't uncomfortable, though, endorsing the "electrolyte-rich" product that includes football's Julio Jones, Giovani Bernard and Marshawn Lynch and baseball's Yasiel Puig among its spokespersons.

The Trail Blazers' All-Star power forward said he has been drinking Vita Coco for "two, three years," and credits it for spurring on his franchise record-setting 46-point performance in Portland's playoff opener against Houston.

"I spoke about it after my amazing game," Aldridge said. Vita Coco officials "heard about it and reached out to me. It makes for a good partnership, because it's genuine. It isn't them paying me to tell a story. It's me using the product already."

Aldridge made news Tuesday in The Oregonian, which quoted him as saying he will play out the final season of his contract to become a free agent next summer, but then intends to sign a long-term deal with the Blazers.

There was no other choice, really. Had he signed an extension this summer, he could have made $55 million over three years. Next summer, he'll be able to ink a five-year, $108-million maximum free-agent pact with the local quintet.

"It's about money and longevity," Aldridge told me. "It makes more sense to have a five-year deal than a three-year deal."

There is no guarantee, of course, that Aldridge will re-sign with Portland, even if today his intentions are to do just that. When KOIN-TV's Dan Christopherson asked Tuesday if it was a guarantee, Aldridge emphasized it's the way he is feeling "right now."

Later, I asked the Blazers' meal ticket if there were anything -- such as a swoon by the club next season -- that could change his mind.

"I'm not doing a 'what-if?' game," Aldridge said. "I'll just say, I'm happy to be here. We made a huge step in the right direction last season, and we got even better by adding Chris Kaman. Right now, we're moving in the right direction, and I'm happy, so that's where I'm at."

Aldridge seems sincerely flattered that owner Paul Allen took time from his busy schedule "flying all over the world" to meet with Aldridge at his Newport Beach, Calif., home and present the extension offer. So that was a good move by Allen and general manager Neil Olshey.

But things can change quickly over the course of a year. Ask the Miami Heat as they try to convince LeBron James to re-sign. Once Aldridge is a free agent, anything can happen.

Under NBA rules, Portland will have the chance to offer an extra year and considerably more money than any other team. Aldridge's place in franchise history has begun to mean a great deal to him, too. The chance to break Clyde Drexler's career records appeals to the big fella.

Aldridge currently stands third in scoring (10,901 points). He'll pass Terry Porter (11,330) next season, then has a long way to go to catch Drexler (18,040). Aldridge is fifth in rebounds (4,708) but, with good health, will likely pass leader Drexler (5,339) next season.

"I'm in the position to be No. 1 in all those categories that I'm close to now," said Aldridge, who turns 29 on July 19. "As I've gotten older, that's become more meaningful."

Aldridge said he likes the idea of spending an entire career with the same organization. There's a short list of current veterans who seem likely to have that happen, including Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant.

"To be in that select group, that would be big-time," Aldridge said. "It speaks of your legacy to be in the organization that long. It'd just be kind of cool."

Aldridge likes the addition of Kaman, who will spell starting center Robin Lopez, provide post offense and make it more difficult for opponents to double-team the Blazers' power forward when they're in the game together.

"He'll be great for us," Aldridge said. "He's a guy who will prevent (opponents) from putting a guy in front of and behind me. He's a good enough scorer and shooter, they can't do that as frequently as they do with 'RoLo.'

"(Kaman) can give us some offense and some different things than Robin does. Robin's great for us, too, but having both of them will help."

Aldridge said he will leave further additions to the Portland roster to Olshey.

"That's not something I'm going to voice," Aldridge said. "Neil and I have had talks. He understands what I would like. He understands basketball enough where he'll do the right thing. I trust him and his decision-making to bring in the right guys."

Since the end of last season, Aldridge has spent time with family in Dallas, vacationed twice in Cabo San Lucas and worked on "conditioning and skill level" in preparation for the USA Basketball tryout camp July 28-31 at Las Vegas. Coach Mike Krzyzewski will pare a squad of 28 -- which includes Damian Lillard -- to 12 for the U.S. team that will participate in the World Cup Aug. 30 to Sept. 14 in Barcelona.

Aldridge seems a shoo-in to make his first national team.

"They need some versatile bigs who can shoot and be mobile," he said. "I think I fit that mold. It would be an honor. Every guy wants to play for his country and enjoy that moment. We'll see."

Then it will be on to another NBA season. And before we know it, Aldridge will be a free agent. It will be the story of a lot of major stories with the Blazers in the summer of 2015.

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