LaMarcus Aldridge is an enigma wrapped in a mystery cloaked in a shooting sleeve. The 12-year veteran appears at the same time aloof and mercurial, something highlighted not only during his career with the Portland Trail Blazers but as stories surfaced of his unhappiness with the best organization in the NBA in the San Antonio Spurs.
Aldridge infamously asked the Spurs to trade him, but things have settled down now. Gregg Popovich admitted he may have tried to over-coach Aldridge, and now the 32-year-old Texas native is having one of his best seasons. Without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs still remain in fifth place in the Western Conference playoff race.
Still, Aldridge’s character remains a bit of a mystery even as we’ve seen cracks in the veneer leak through in recent years. During his exit from Portland, it was rumored that Aldridge’s relationship with star Damian Lillard wasn’t the kind of partnership most would expect from two franchise pillars. Now, Aldridge has taken responsibility for his side of things and admitted that if he had another chance, he might have done things differently with the All-Star point guard.
In an excellent feature from Vice and Michael Pina, Aldridge gave in part some of his thoughts on his time in Rip City with Lillard.
“It’s always tough for me to find that balance where I want to tell [Damian] not to do this or this is better,” Aldridge says. “But I don’t want him to feel like I’m trying to hold him back from being who he wants to be. I do regret not talking to him at times, but also I feel like he was trying to find himself.
“I would say him and I have learned more about each other since I left that would’ve helped us when I was there, so I’ve learned from that and I’m trying to be better and not worry if I come off a certain way, because I feel like when people know who I am as a person, they know I have no ill will. I’m more reserved, so I didn’t want to come off as trying to stifle his shine. I just got back in the corner and let him do his thing…I feel like if him and I communicated as much then as we do now, then things would’ve been totally different.”
Aldridge continues to be one of the most subtly interesting figures in league history. Everything from his draft history (traded for Tyrus Thomas), to his pairing with Brandon Roy, to his relationship with Lillard has so many complexities it’s hard to keep track of them from afar.
In Portland, Aldridge certainly seemed to want to be more respected than he was. He alluded to it in the Vice piece saying, “I don’t want this to come off like I’m whining, but if someone else had done the things that I’ve done, it would be talked about more.”
The problem with Aldridge was that despite fluctuating between being the best and second-best player on his Blazers teams, he was never a vocal leader. Coaches tried to encourage him to step up, especially as he flourished post-Roy. But Aldridge was disadvantaged by the fact that he wanted superstar recognition despite lacking superstardom. Both Roy and Lillard were more vocal — or at least charismatic — leaders who also craved national recognition for their play. Both guards at times overshadowed Aldridge with their game.
Aldridge’s Blazers years were always this odd whirlwind of wanting respect but also wanting distance, which is something we rarely (if ever) see from the best stars on playoff-contending NBA teams in the modern era. That he wanted to be the No. 1 guy but shied away from the interpersonal responsibility that comes with that wasn’t helped by Roy and Lillard being so good in a guard-dominant league.
This isn’t to say anything against Aldridge as a person. He’s his own personality and part of what makes him so interesting is the fact that he’s dominant offensively despite being one of the quietest veterans we’ve seen. We made jokes about his external image to our heart’s content, but even former Spurs teammate Tim Duncan was vocal behind the scenes in a way Aldridge has never been.
Aldridge does seem to have sorted himself out now, even if only very recently and with the guidance of perhaps the best coach to ever grace the league. Everyone is hoping Leonard is back for the playoffs, but if he isn’t it will be another chapter in Aldridge’s long narrative as he tries to lead the Spurs past the first round.