LaMarcus Aldridge Finds That Becoming a Spur Is Tougher Than Choosing to Be One

Kevin DingNBA Senior WriterOctober 9, 2015

San Antonio Spurs' LaMarcus Aldridge (12) poses for photos during media day at the team's practice facility, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Eric Gay

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Now that LaMarcus Aldridge's free-agent leap is going from celebrated landing to first step, a little secret needs to be told.

"I don't really handle change well," Aldridge confided to Bleacher Report Thursday afternoon, ticking down the hours until his San Antonio Spurs debut.

So much rides on Aldridge's successful transition. He knows it. It's part of the deal after being the league's leading free agent and tying the legacies of all those Spurs icons to his own.

Aldridge is trying to jet through an opening chapter he is smart enough to know he can't really jet through.

"It's been weird because I was in Portland for so long, and I kind of know the ways," he said. "Things were a little bit tailored to me in a way. Wasn't too much to have to figure out."

Indeed, Aldridge showed some discomfort in his opening exhibition game, making three of his 10 shots from the field with no assists and three rebounds in 23 minutes. The Spurs lost to the Sacramento Kings, 95-92, and were outscored by a whopping 21 points while Aldridge was on the floor.

Who wasn't on the floor? Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw. They got to stay home in San Antonio. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich did, too.

Oct 8, 2015; Sacramento, CA, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) dribbles the ball as Sacramento Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein (00) defends during the first quarter at Sleep Train Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Not that Popovich isn't wholehearted in his commitment to rest, but one shouldn't put it past him to send Aldridge out to Sacramento alone to struggle a bit and open his mind even wider to the importance of his change.

There is nothing more important to the Spurs than ensuring Aldridge goes with their flow rather than sliding back into his individual comfort zone. The connectivity of this team hinges on fast-passing harmony on offense, and Aldridge has a history of holding the ball to look for openings.

Yes, the Spurs need Aldridge to be aggressive, but they need him to do it within their system.

In that fundamental regard, his Spurs debut was somewhat encouraging.

Aldridge erred on the side of team play, trying to pass more than go for what he knows. That mindset contributed to his tentative performance, which improved in the second half when he got more assertive. He noted that it was different without Parker there to run the devastating pick and rolls they've already progressed on in practice scrimmages.

Yet Aldridge said "I don't mind" when discussing which teammates weren't there for him Thursday. He called the experience "very valuable" because he very much wants to get comfortable within this offense—even just using the terminology.

It should be noted that Aldridge still wound up leaning hard toward familiarity: His first nine scoring overtures of the game (seven shots, one pre-shot foul and one turnover) all originated from his preferred left side of the court.

In the second half, when Spurs assistant (and stand-in head coach for the exhibition) Ettore Messina sensed the need to get Aldridge a bucket, the call came for an Aldridge isolation post-up on the left block.

Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

That was long after Aldridge found it "a little overwhelming" just to put on a non-Portland Trail Blazers uniform before the game. And the script flip had already struck him before that, actually.

Aldridge, frankly, was confused to see the pregame locker room video showing Sacramento's first exhibition game: Kings at Portland…except Aldridge wasn't there.

It was a reminder of how easily Aldridge can get distracted by the old when he's trying to devote himself to the new.

He had insecurities during his time in Portland and needed to make sure people were looking out for him—including Damian Lillard. Aldridge is a straight-ahead kind of guy who speaks in an orderly fashion and offers a summation sentence to cap off a thought. The stuff about being comfortable being comfortable is undeniably real to him.

For Aldridge to be what the Spurs want him to be, they have to help him be comfortable.   

"It's been cool," he said. "The whole team has been understanding and [has been] trying to help me get it."

There was Spurs assistant coach Ime Udoka, Aldridge's former Portland teammate, sitting with him on the side during a shootaround to go through specific play details. Aldridge said Popovich has approached repeatedly in other practices to ask him what he thinks of certain schemes.

"Both sides have to adjust a little bit to make it work," Aldridge said.

Eric Gay/Associated Press

Aldridge said, for his part, he is trying to be "more welcoming than I have been in the past." All of this change is worth the risk to him because of how great it would be if it works out.

Not only can he revise his legacy from playoff loser to NBA champ, Aldridge can secure one certainty: his comfort zone off the court.

This is the guy whose Twitter announcement of his free-agent choice declared his joy over returning to his home state of Texas before naming the Spurs as his destination.

The move from Portland, his only home for nine years in the NBA, meant he would be near his two sons, his mother and even his beloved Dallas Cowboys.

"I've seen my family more already," Aldridge said. "I've been to a couple of my kids' soccer games, which I had never been able to do in the past. That's been nice for them to have me around more."

It's one thing to hear the score of a soccer game over the phone. It's another to be there and see the bright of the green in a boy's cleats and how big his smile is.

Aldridge is already appreciative of that.

And it helps him cope with this new job thing, for sure.

"I just take it all in," he said. "Try to take it in stride. And don't get frustrated."

 

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.