LaMarcus Aldridge was the hot name in free agency, with a multitude of teams chasing the Portland Trail Blazers big man.
The LA Lakers brought the All-Star in and tried to sell him on playing with Kobe Bryant and their crop of talented young players in Jordan Clarkson, D'Angelo Russell, and Julius Randle. The Blazers tried to keep their 2006 2nd overall pick but failed and the Knicks couldn't even get a meeting with the All-Star.
The Mavericks, Rockets, and Raptors also got their chance to try and persuade the 30-year-old to sign on the dotted line, but Aldridge chose to link up with Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, and the San Antonio Spurs. Sure, the four-year, $80million contract probably sweetened the deal, but on the surface of it this seemed like an excellent move for both Aldridge himself and the Spurs.
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There was absolutely zero drama in the Aldridge recruiting cycle, compared to DeAndre Jordan's u-turn on the Dallas Mavericks, and everyone left the negotiations happy - well apart from the Blazers and the fans in Portland who had supported LaMarcus for nine years. However, it hasn't been an easy homecoming for the Texas native who starred at Seagoville High School in Dallas.
Aldridge has gone from being the heart of the offense with the team on his back in Portland to little more than a cog in the machine in San Antonio. As you would expect, his numbers have taken a big hit. But his overall performance has been exceedingly underwhelming as well, causing those sat in the AT&T Center and the media to question whether or not bringing in the power forward was a good move after all.
After 18 games this season, Aldridge is averaging 14.8 points on 43.5 percent shooting and 8.9 rebounds. When you compare that to his numbers from the first 18 games of last season, it is incredibly revealing of a player who is overthinking everything he does on the court now.
To kick off the 2014/15 season, Aldridge averaged 22.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per encounter. The season before that he had 22.7 points on 46.5 percent shooting and 9.6 rebounds. Aldridge is clearly a worse player right now than when he was in Portland.
But maybe, just maybe, things are starting to turn around for the All-Star caliber forward. He missed his first seven shots in the Spurs' 103-83 win on Thursday night over the Memphis Grizzlies, but managed to rebound expertly to hit 7-of-8 down the stretch.
And it seems like veteran star Tim Duncan is the one guiding Aldridge through his rough spell. “[Tim Duncan] kept staying in my ear, and I wouldn’t smile,” Aldridge explained.
“So he was getting frustrated with me. I made a shot. I gave him a smile, and that’s when he got kind of hype. But he’s been nothing but positive for me this whole process. He’s always been in my ear trying to tell me to be myself, be positive and it’s gonna come; just be patient."
This upturn is shooting carried into the Spurs next game as well, against the Celtics on Saturday night at AT&T Center. Aldridge led all Spurs scorers in the close 108-105 win with 17 points on 8-of-15 field goals while also hauling in eight rebounds and dishing a solitary dime in 27 minutes of action.
The good form continued last night as well, with Aldridge leading all scorers yet again as the Spurs strolled to a W against the Philadelphia 76ers. Aldridge put up 26 points for a San Antonio team that rested some big names, grabbing nine boards as well in less than 22 minutes of action.
It was never going to be an easy start to life in San Antonio for the four-time All-Star, as he was always going to have a reduced role under Coach Pop. It might take him a year or two to get back to that level - potentially when Duncan finally walks away from the game - but Aldridge is playing on a team and for a coach that has always prioritized team honors over that of the individual.
And after nine years of being the big fish in the small, trophy-less pond, Aldridge will surely take lifting the Larry O'Brien trophy ahead of anything else, even if it means his numbers suffer.
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