Portland Trail Blazers’ power forward, LaMarcus Aldridge, seemed at home and optimistic addressing reporters after the second day of training camp in Tualatin, Oregon. He commented positively about the team’s versatility: “Every option is going to be deadly this year.” And he made it known he is ready for preseason to begin: “It’s not strange [to be back], it’s exciting.” The town and its media appear finally poised to accept that the six-foot-eleven, seven-year veteran is home in Portland for the foreseeable future. Aldridge, although soft spoken and generally congenial, has faced drama most similar to the stuff of an insecure girl clinging to her boyfriend; the sort of stuff at the crux of Taylor Swift songs. The city acted convinced Aldridge is too good for them and he wants to leave, and every action is interpreted to be one of heartlessness.
The edgy relationship between Aldridge and the Rose City began when he was drafted second in 2006 by the Chicago Bulls and quickly traded to Portland. The organization clearly had high hopes for Aldridge. His first season, playing center, he shot 50% from the field and averaged five rebounds per game. Pretty solid statistics for a rookie. But it was also evident he was in the shadow of the sixth draft pick and Rookie of the Year, Brandon Roy. There was obviously distance between the two players. Aldridge even stated to Joel Odom of The Oregonian, “We would talk to each other, but we never did anything above and beyond that.” He explained in that interview that the tension, which many fans attributed to his feeling like the second favorite, had more to do with a misunderstanding about a barbeque invitation.
The perceived drama between the co-captains has, of course, dissipated with Roy’s departure from the Trail Blazers. But a new media scuffle ensued in 2011 and 2012. As a noxious team atmosphere emerged, he met with media criticism for failure to fill the void left by Roy. Dimemag.com reporter Andrew Greif described Aldridge’s situation: “He was pushed into the spotlight like a person with stage fright.” Getting the ball where it needed to go come’s naturally. Leadership does not. Jason Quick of The Oregonian’s analysis was more scathing, pointing to Aldridge’s lack of leadership as the root of the team’s tensions and going so far as to confront him about it. The power forward insisted he did what was required of him; the team would simply not be led.
Other little provocations inflamed Aldridge’s onlookers over the seasons: reporters say he is bored with Portland; he is frustrated with the team’s depth; he shoots too many jumpers. The final straw was the rumors Aldridge wanted to be traded and that he was trying to get out of his lease. These were brought to a screeching halt on media day when general manager Neil Olshey made it clear the franchise had had enough, “Asked and answered.” It was as if he said to that insecure girlfriend, stop texting LA or he will leave you. And maybe she got the message this time. Maybe Aldridge has at last proven he’s not Zach Randolph—he’s not off with thugs at a strip joint on Portland’s seedy Columbia Boulevard. He’s not LeBron James—he’s not going to bolt at the sight of a something prettier with a tan. Maybe Portland and its media will finally achieve a comfortable union with their offensive leader. Maybe he will take them to a post-season that will force them to forget his foibles and ride off into the sunset of a secure relationship.