For a long time, LaMarcus Aldridge was the bad trade that kept on forgiving.
The logic went like this: Sure, swapping Aldridge for Tyrus Thomas and Victor Khryapa on draft night 2006 was a bad move. But being bad in 2007-08 directly resulted in the Bulls landing Derrick Rose.
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So anything that happened before the Bulls' moment of lottery luck was perfectly fine. It all turned out for the best.
Aldridge even cooperated by averaging less than 8 rebounds in his early years. Maybe he was too soft to become an elite big man in the NBA.
That line of thinking has flown out the window this season. Aldridge, 28, is averaging 23.4 points and 11.1 rebounds, while leading Portland to a 46-27 record.
Aldridge missed seven games with a back injury, but returned against the Hawks and scored 25 points. The Bulls host the Trail Blazers on Friday at the United Center.
Joakim Noah has had some good battles against Aldridge. Remember, it was Noah's ability to battle through plantar fasciitis and slow down Aldridge in an overtime victory over Portland on Feb. 26, 2010, that prompted the postgame spat between John Paxson and Vinny Del Negro over Noah's minutes.
"He's probably the most polished big in the NBA in terms of scoring the ball," Noah said of Aldridge this week. "He can do a lot of things. He gets everybody else open shots."
While Aldridge is having his best year, Rose is essentially in his second season of sitting out with a knee injury. Rose will be 26 when next season begins, so maybe the Bulls can count on many more successful years from the former MVP.
But we won't know until it actually happens, and no matter if or how well Rose plays in the coming years, his megamax contract will be a burden when it comes to retooling the roster.
The Thomas era hardly needs rehashing. At 27, he's not even in the league after getting amnestied by the Charlotte. Khryapa went back to Russia a long time ago.
There will be a residual payoff to the Aldridge trade in the form of a first-round pick from the Bobcats, which the Bulls got for Thomas in 2010. But even that won't pay off the way it could have.
The Bulls were hoping Charlotte would stay bad and it would turn into a top overall pick in 2016. Instead, the Bulls are going to get it this summer, probably at the No. 16 slot.
Bulls fans love to lament the decision not to keep Aldridge with the No. 2 pick in 2006. Now is a good time to imagine how things would be different for the Bulls.
It's possible the roster could be pretty similar. When the Bulls drafted Noah in 2007, it was with a pick from New York in the Eddy Curry deal. So having Aldridge on the roster in 2006-07 wouldn't change anything there.
The Bulls probably would have missed out on Rose in 2008, but there were good players chosen beyond the 10th pick in that draft -- Brook Lopez, Roy Hibbert, Ryan Anderson, Serge Ibaka, Nicholas Batum and Goran Dragic (in the second round).
If the Bulls already had Aldridge and Noah by then, they probably would have passed a big man, so tough to tell which player they would have chosen.
In 2009, maybe the Bulls take Ty Lawson or Jeff Teague instead of James Johnson. A couple of key players on the Bulls' current roster, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler, were late first-round picks, so they could conceivably still be here.
The biggest question is what happens in 2010 free agency. Assuming Aldridge played well for the Bulls, he'd be due for an extension right around then, which means the Bulls wouldn't have had so much cap space. So a scenario where Aldridge and Noah successfully recruit LeBron James to Chicago is far-fetched.
But what does happen? The Bulls wouldn't need Carlos Boozer or Chris Bosh. Joe Johnson would be an attractive target, but Atlanta still probably wins the chase with that absurd maximum contract. Maybe the Bulls sign Kyle Korver and keep him long term.
So the Bulls' fantasy lineup could include Aldridge, Noah, Butler, Korver, maybe Lawson, with Gibson coming off the bench.
Would that be better than what the future holds with Rose and European sensation Nikola Mirotic? It's a lot easier to second-guess the past than predict the future.