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LaMarcus Aldridge says given chance he would have handled Damian Lillard relationship differently

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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.

Via Vice:

“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.

Rumor: Patrick Beverley may meet with five teams before Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers want to bring Patrick Beverley back next season, his spark was at the heart of why this team made the playoffs and impressed with their potential.

First, however, the Clippers are going big game hunting for the likes of Kawhi Leonard and/or Kevin Durant (even with the Achilles injury). Beverley isn’t just going to sit around and wait for them, reports longtime NBA reporter Sean Deveney Tweeted.

The Bulls need a point guard and Beverley — a Chicago native — has said he is interested.

The Lakers also are reportedly big game hunting, but Beverley is the kind of guard they could use around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Phoenix and other teams have been mentioned.

Beverley is going to have options, but he loved his time with the Clippers last season, and that means something.

Pelicans reportedly pick up option year on coach Alvin Gentry

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David Griffin, the guy with the hammer in New Orleans, likes Alvin Gentry. They have a relationship that goes back to Phoenix, where Gentry was the coach and Griffin was in the front office (and was eventually GM).

Gentry also has a style of play — he wants to run and be up-tempo. That should fit very well with soon-to-be No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise the Griffin and the Pelicans want to keep Gentry around, as reported by Malika Andrews of ESPN.

This is another smart, stabilizing move by Griffin. The Pelicans want to build an athletic, fast-paced team and Gentry is the right coach for that style.  Maybe it doesn’t pan out, maybe the Pelicans ultimately need to go another direction with their coach, but right now this seems a good fit.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.