HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — For all of the excitement and trepidation that comes with rebuilding and relying on youngsters like Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard to help revitalize the situation in Portland, there is one man, and one man only, in the middle of the mix out there.
LaMarcus Aldridge holds the key to the team’s (immediate) future. His leadership, on and off the court, will have to serve as the main catalyst for a team searching for a new identity with a new coach (Terry Stotts), new young pieces and a brand new sole headliner in the All-Star power forward.
Aldridge showed last season that he was up to task of being the front man for the franchise, taking over a role that had rested largely on the shoulders of Brandon Roy before he retired prior to the start of an abbreviated training camp. Aldridge made his first All-Team and served notice that Kevin Love and Blake Griffin would have company in their quest to claim the crown as next in line in the Western Conference’s proud power forward lineage.
Just how long Aldridge remains alone at the center of all things for the Trail Blazers, however, remains to be seen. He has quality help in HT fave Wesley Matthews and Nic Batum, two of the survivors from the latest franchise restart. Aldridge is completely healed from offseason hip surgery and eager to get this season started.
But he only has two years remaining on his current contract and at 27 at the stage of his career where his physical powers should plateau for at least the next three or four seasons. In a day and age when superstars are aligning themselves in search of championship glory, the Los Angeles Lakers will be on the season-long rock tour this year after Miami did it the previous two years and Boston before them, it’s not unreasonable to ask just how long Aldridge will want to remain the leader of a start-up band.
Our main man Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune broached that very subject with Aldridge as the Trail Blazers opened camp, hunting answers for very pertinent questions:
Will Aldridge stay motivated as the young, inexperienced Blazers fall out of the playoff picture sometime after the All-Star break?
Will he tire of the constant double-teams that will dog his every move in the post?
Will he get frustrated as most of his West teammates in the 2012 All-Star Game — guys such as Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Love — play into the postseason?
Might he desire a trade at some point soon?
Maybe he’ll be fine with another rebuilding team.
“I’m here,” he told me after Tuesday’s opening training-camp session. “I’m here to try to win, to try to compete, to get better every night.”
Pundits are predicting a second straight run to the lottery for the Blazers. Does that bother Aldridge?
“That’s normal when you have so many young guys,” he said. “We’re all here, we’re working hard. Anything’s possible.”
Even making the playoffs?
“I can’t make any predictions,” he offered. “If we go out and do the best we can be defensively, then yes we can.”
Aldridge handled the line of questioning the way you’d expect from a player who wisely took his time becoming a team leader. He could set off alarms by questioning the moves of the front office staff and the franchise, but that’s not his style. And Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey will sleep a little better at night this season when he realizes what a luxury a star like Aldridge can be in that particular scenario.
Just because Aldridge believes in his team’s playoff potential right now doesn’t mean the rest of us do or have to. The road to one of those eight playoff spots in the West is going to be brutal for teams with more experienced firepower than the Blazers will show up with for the start of this season.
There have just been so many different arrivals and departures in recent seasons , it’s hard to know exactly who and what you can count on in Portland … outside of Aldridge, Matthews, Batum and perhaps Lillard?