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.

Ben Simmons targeting Friday vs. Hawks to return from calf strain

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Ben Simmons has missed the Nets’ last three games with knee pain tied to a left calf strain, and he will be out Wednesday, too, when Brooklyn takes on Charlotte.

However, he plans to return on Friday (Dec. 9) against the Hawks.

Simmons was adjusting to a new role in Brooklyn. In Philadelphia he was a point-forward with the ball in his hands playing off Joel Embiid (at least at first), but in Brooklyn the ball needed to be in the hands of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the halfcourt. Simmons is playing more small-ball five, and is asked to be aggressive and attack when he gets the ball — not shoot jumpers — and to push the rock in transition. It took a while for Simmons to settle into that space, but he seemed to in games against Philadelphia (11 points, 11 assists), Toronto (14 points, six assists) and Indiana (20 points). Then the injuries hit.

Brooklyn sits at 13-12, with a middle-of-the-pack offense and defense for the season. While there are doubts about the ceiling for this team, it has a talent level that should be better than this record, it’s just been beset by injuries, controversy causing Kyrie Irving to miss time, and a coaching change. The Nets have yet to hit their stride.

But they could have a clean injury report on Friday night, and maybe that can be the start of this team getting on a run.

Suns, Hawks reportedly show interest in Kuzma trade, Wizards see him as cornerstone

Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets
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Kyle Kuzma was the kind of quality, two-way role player the Lakers needed around LeBron James and Anthony Davis to win the 2020 NBA title (the type of player the Lakers wish they had now).

In Washington, his role has been elevated — he’s a 20-point-a-game scorer (20.6 points per game this season, to be precise) who is a key part of generating offense, not just playing off the stars of Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. As he told Shams Charania of The Athletic:

“As soon as I got traded, I was ready to be more,” Kuzma told The Athletic.

It’s been enough to draw the interest of a couple of teams looking for a trade, Charania adds. The Wizards are not necessarily interested in moving on, however.

Several teams, such as the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns, have expressed trade interest in Kuzma, according to league sources. By the same token, the Wizards have shown interest in Hawks forward John Collins, and the sides seriously discussed a potential deal last offseason, league sources added…

However, the Wizards’ front office, led by general manager Tommy Sheppard, has made clear that it views Kuzma as a cornerstone moving forward as the franchise has seen him thrive since the mega-trade in the 2021 offseason. The Westbrook trade provided future flexibility and assets for the Wizards, who have been known to be aggressive and active in research across the league.

Kuzma has a $13 million player option for next season that he will unquestionably opt out of, making him a free agent in search of a healthy raise (north of $20 million a year, although expect something more in the ballpark of the four-year, $104 million Jalen Brunson contract). If the Wizards are willing to pay they likely can keep him (they have his Bird rights). But if Washington isn’t sure it wants to pay market value, or if management sees a shifting path for future seasons, it should consider trading Kuzma at the deadline.

If he becomes available, far more teams than the Hawks and Suns would be interested, quality two-way forwards are in demand around the league. Kuzma would have some leverage over where he gets sent because he can leave as a free agent (teams would offer up less if they believed Kuzma would only be a rental for this season).

Magic send Jonathan Isaac to G-League for practice, rehabilitation

2022-2023 Orlando Magic Media Day
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There was a time when it was thought Jonathan Isaac might be the Magic’s next big star.

However, he has not stepped on an NBA court since he was in the bubble (Feb. 8, 2020), then he tore his ACL in August of that year (which came on the heels of missing much of that season with an injury to the same knee). Last March he had a setback and another procedure, and at this point he has missed two full seasons plus the start of this one.

Isaac is still working toward recovery and the Magic have assigned him to the Lakeland Magic of the G-League to get in some practice.

Because NBA teams barely practice during the season — the schedule of games nearly every other day plus travel and recovery doesn’t permit more than film sessions and walk-throughs — these kinds of baseball-style minor league rehab assignments are more and more common.

The story from the Magic’s official website notes this will be the first time Isaac will play 5-on-5 with other players during his rehab, which is a significant step forward.

There is no timeline for his return, but the Magic have him under contract this season for $17.4 million and two more fully guaranteed years at the same price. There is no reason for the franchise to walk away, even if some around the league question if his knees will ever let him back on an NBA court again.

The Magic have found their next star in Paolo Banchero and have built a promising young core, something Isaac — an elite defender before his injuries — should fit in well with. If he can get healthy and back on the court.

Antetokounmpo talks about plans for his 28th birthday while holding Simpsons plush

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Happy birthday, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak turns 28 today.

After he dropped a casual (for him) 34-13-5 line in the Bucks’ win over the Magic last night, Antetokounmpo discussed his birthday plans. He’s not going out, maybe just dinner, playing with his kids, and once they are asleep… ya know.

I feel safe saying Antetokounmpo is the first NBA player to talk about birthday sex while holding a Homer J. Simpson plush doll.

If you’re asking, why the Simpson doll… why not? Bucks reserve forward Sandro Mamukelashvili won it at Universal Studios, brought it to the game, left it behind in the locker room and Antetokounmpo appropriated it.

In a world where most postgame press conferences are formulaic and filled with cliches it’s good to see a player willing just to be himself and have some fun behind the mic.