Blazers fans met the report with skepticism and resentment. Two words particularly irked them: “It’s Portland.” They dismissed the Los Angeles-based Shelburne as big-city biased, unable to understand the beauty of Portland like Aldridge did.
Except Aldridge, as we all know, left the Trail Blazers for the Spurs.
And its seems Portland’s environment factored, as did Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard.
Privately, Aldridge never made much of a secret about his dislike for the lifestyle and climate of Portland and the Pacific Northwest. As an organization, the Blazers could do nothing about it.
Aldridge loathed driving around Portland and seeing those Lillard billboards that adidas had mounted for him – even when the Blazers made Aldridge the centerpiece of every franchise marketing investment.
Throughout the final, formal meeting in late June, it became clear that Aldridge hadn’t let completely let go of years-old issues with the way he believed ex-Blazers Brandon Roy and Greg Oden had overshadowed him in his early years. This was part of Aldridge’s personality that everyone surrounding him understood – that the teams recruiting him had researched and debated internally on how to navigate in the recruiting process.
Leaving that meeting in Dallas in late June, perhaps little was more telling than the fact Aldridge never raised one particular name: Damian Lillard. Ultimately, this was the enigma of LaMarcus Aldridge. He wanted talent around him, but never too much that it might lessen his own marquee. Pleasing Aldridge was never easy, and nobody knew that better than the Portland Trail Blazers.
Aldridge didn’t sign with the Spurs for any one reason.
Going home to Texas played a part. Leaving Portland, regardless of the destination, probably factored, too.
He wanted to play for a winner, and San Antonio offers that. But once Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili retire, Aldridge has at least a chance to be the face of the franchise. It’s more likely he overcomes the private Kawhi Leonard than the endorsement-rich Lillard. The Spurs are good, but not too good at the top (at least in perception, because Leonard is great).
I doubt those were deal-breakers, though.
If Wesley Matthews stayed healthy and the Trail Blazers continued to win, maybe Aldridge would’ve re-signed. I don’t think his dislike of the city trumped all other factors.
But even if it did, that’s totally fine. Aldridge is entitled to assess Portland and Lillard’s stature however he pleases.
Some NBA players surely like Portland. It’s a big and diverse league.
Many NBA players want to play with Lillard, too. Few can credibly claim to warrant a higher spot in the pecking order, and only a subset of that group actually cares.
Aldridge – the Trail Blazers’ franchise player for years – just happens to be someone who cares about things Portland couldn’t offer.