NBA: LaMarcus Aldridge turns over new leaf with same team
Portland, Ore. • LaMarcus Aldridge is getting a fresh start with his old team.
No, Aldridge never left the Trail Blazers, but this season is decidedly different for the All-Star forward.
"New pieces, new players, new locker room, new coach," he said. "Everything's new."
Of course, only time will tell whether that's a good thing or not.
The Blazers finished last season 28-38 and out of the playoffs for the first time in four years. They dismissed head coach Nate McMillan and let go of some of their more veteran players, choosing to build around Aldridge and swingman Nicolas Batum.
Aldridge, 27, is starting his seventh season with the Blazers. He's averaging 17.8 points and 7.5 rebounds for his career, but last season he averaged 21.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists while shooting a career-high 51.2 percent. And he made his first All-Star team.
Parallels could be drawn between this season and Aldridge's rookie year in 2006, when the team was trying to crawl out of the Jail Blazers era when it was known for its off-court trouble. But the 6-foot-11 power forward says there's a difference this season.
"My first time, it was much more dramatic. It was a team that was trying to change its image. It was a team that had won 21 games in the regular season," Aldridge said. "So that time was a lot different than this one. This time we really have some good pieces, and I think guys are actually better this time. "
Much of the cast that supported Aldridge in past seasons is now gone. Blazers starters Gerald Wallace and Marcus Camby were traded away. Brandon Roy retired, but has come back this season with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Center Joel Przybilla signed as a free agent with the Milwaukee Bucks.
A new Blazers team emerged over the summer. It started when the Blazers hired general manager Neil Olshey, who spent the past nine seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Olshey went to work right away preparing for the NBA draft, and went on to land guards Damian Lillard and Will Barton and center Meyers Leonard. Olshey also won a chess match with Minnesota to keep Batum, who was a restricted free agent.
The Blazers' next internal move was to bring in head coach Terry Stotts, who was 115-168 as coach of the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks but spent the past four seasons as an assistant with the Dallas Mavericks, where he won a championship.
Stotts has already spurred changes in Aldridge's style of play.
"I'm excited about my game, really. I feel that (Stotts') offense is tailored more to the elbow and that's what I've worked on this summer," Aldridge said. "So I'm excited about showing people that I've gotten better."
Aldridge is coming off offseason surgery to repair a slight labral tear in his right hip, a procedure he said was proactive. While he was a finalist for the U.S. Olympic team, Aldridge's recovery prevented him from earning a spot on the squad that won the gold medal in London.
Now fully healed, Aldridge led team workouts in September at the Blazers' Tualatin practice facility before the start of fall camp. The idea was to get to know the newcomers especially Lillard.
Aldridge will obviously be working closely this season with Lillard, whom Olshey has labeled the team's franchise point guard. The sixth overall pick in the NBA draft, Lillard averaged 24.5 points, five rebounds and four assists as a junior last season at Weber State.
The rookie was impressive in the NBA Summer League, averaging 26.5 points, 5.3 assists and four rebounds in four games. In three preseason games, Lillard is averaging 16.3 points and five assists per game.
"We have a lot of young pieces that have the potential to be really, really good. I felt like seeing Damian in person and playing with him was big for me," Aldridge said. "I want to start building that chemistry."
Lillard added: "It doesn't take long, just because I'm a willing passer, and so is he. As long as we're willing to work off each other and keep it simple and we're not trying to force it or make it go one way or the other I feed it to him, he's the All-Star. It's as simple as that."
So far in the preseason, the Blazers are 2-2, coming off a 97-80 victory over the Denver Nuggets. Portland hosts Golden State on Friday night.
The Blazers open the regular season on Halloween night at home against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Oh, and as for that new locker room, the Blazers unveiled it before the Nuggets game on Wednesday night. It includes a hydrotherapy room and a smoothie bar.
Aldridge, meanwhile, is remaining realistic about the team's chances this season.
"I think there's going to be some ups and downs with any young team you have some ups and downs," Aldridge said. "With me, going through it my first season, we'd win one then lose three or four. I'm not saying it's going to be a down season but it's going to be hard sometimes."