Sources: LaMarcus Aldridge expected to leave Blazers in free agency
And Wednesday's trade of forward Nicolas Batum was an indication, league sources told ESPN.com's Marc Stein, of Portland's growing belief that Aldridge is poised to leave in free agency.
"He's gone," a source close to Aldridge said. "There's a 99.9 percent chance that he's out of Portland."
The sources listed several reasons Aldridge is expected to leave the Blazers, for whom he has played since entering the league in 2006. They said that he doesn't believe the Blazers can attract top free agents to improve the team, that he feels somewhat underappreciated by the organization and that he simply is looking for a new environment to live in.
Sources told Stein that the Blazers have been pressing for more concrete signals from Aldridge's camp about his plans before the July 1 start of free agency and are increasingly fearful they have little chance of retaining the All-Star big man once he hits the open market.
On the list of teams Aldridge will consider signing with are the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks, sources said. Aldridge is actually thinking more and more about a free-agent jump to the Lakers, sources told Stein this week.
The Lakers, sources added to Stein, firmly believe they now will be in the Aldridge hunt. As ESPN.com first reported Monday, Lakers officials also continue to try to press the Sacramento Kings to trade them All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins.
The Spurs, sources say, continue to be Aldridge's most likely destination.
"He has tons of respect for coach [Gregg] Popovich," one source told Broussard. "And he thinks highly of their organization and front office."
The Spurs will have to be creative with their salary structure to offer Aldridge a max deal beginning at $18.8 million while retaining stars Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.
Sources also say there is a rising sentiment the Lakers have edged past the Mavericks on Aldridge's wish list even though he was a high school star in Dallas.
San Antonio is likewise familiar ground to Aldridge after he played collegiately at Texas in nearby Austin.
The Lakers' and Knicks' hopes of landing Aldridge likely will depend on whom they select in Thursday's draft, trade for or sign in free agency. Aldridge lives near Los Angeles in the offseason and has been there this week, sources told Broussard.
A long-shot candidate for Aldridge would be the Cleveland Cavaliers, who likely would have to execute a sign-and-trade with Kevin Love. Love opted out of his Cavaliers contract Wednesday and is from Oregon.
As ESPN.com reported earlier Wednesday, Portland is expected to make its own hard push in free agency for Love should Aldridge leave town.
The Blazers created an additional $4 million of potential salary-cap space by shipping Batum to Charlotte for Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh and have been well set up by general manager Neil Olshey to have the flexibility to go in a variety of directions if they need to respond to an Aldridge defection.
Atlanta also is on Aldridge's list, as he believes he could form a strong frontcourt tandem with Hawks center Al Horford.
Sources told Stein that Portland plans to be very aggressive in July in trying to persuade star guard Damian Lillard to commit to a five-year max extension in the $120 million range.