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Aldridge working through his Spurs-dom one step at a time

San Antonio's new big man made his preseason debut -- albeit a quiet one -- to notch another first in his career as a Spur

POSTED: Oct 9, 2015 10:01 AM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper

NBA.com

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LaMarcus Aldridge had eight points and three rebounds in the Spurs' 95-92 preseason loss in Sacramento.

Just in case there was any doubt he had actually gone through with it, that he absolutely, positively had left the Portland Trail Blazers for the San Antonio Spurs in the free-agent decision of the summer, LaMarcus Aldridge was surrounded by confirmation in a Thursday night against the Kings at Sleep Train Arena that really happened.

He walked into the visitor's locker room, but coach Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw did not, all of whom stayed in San Antonio rather than making the game. Try finding greater affirmation of being a Spur than that.

Aldridge put on a black jersey with white lettering, which also felt weird. He could look around to see Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Patty Mills, not Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum. And when Aldridge soon glanced up at the flat screen near his stall to catch clips of a recent Kings game -- the typical pre-game viewing that allows players to watch film of opponents -- who did Sacramento happen to be playing?

The Trail Blazers.

In Portland.

Aldridge Connects

LaMarcus Aldridge hits the turnaround jumper scoring his first points as a Spur.

That was a weird way to begin his first game with the Spurs, Aldridge couldn't help but think. That feeling still hadn't left him hours after spending 23 minutes finding his way around a new basketball world while notching eight points (on 3-for-10 shooting) and three rebounds in the Kings' 95-92 victory. The past was literally in his face as he tried to get on with the future.

The night was "(a) little overwhelming because it doesn't really hit you until you really go put on the jersey and then you go play," Aldridge said. "I knew I was in San Antonio, but it doesn't really hit you until you're on the court trying to figure out how to run an offense again and things like that. But I think the process has been going well so far."

The key point being that it's a process. He had been a Trail Blazer for nine seasons, from arriving as the No. 2 pick in the 2006 Draft to cratering Portland hopes in 2015 by walking as a free agent. Now, there is a new system to learn while incorporating with new, veteran teammates. Unselfish teammates who have no problem if a fresh arrival steals a portion of the spotlight, yes. Still, this is going to take some time.

It's just different. I'm not saying I'm uncomfortable. I'm just adjusting to the newness, and trying to learn how to play with guys is a process and them learning how to play off me, vice versa. I think it's just going to be a process.

– San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge

Exactly how much time -- maybe through the end of training camp, maybe through the end of 2015 -- no one can say. Put it this way, though. A 30-year-old, four-time All-Star cherished the opportunity of playing in an exhibition game with a small crowd and little atmosphere, all while many of his most important teammates were a couple time zones away.

"I need every game no matter what, whether Tim and those guys are playing or not," Aldridge said. "I need the game reps, the time out there to just get more comfortable with them. I'm not comfortable yet, so I thought this game was very valuable for me just trying to make that step into being comfortable.

"It's just different. I'm not saying I'm uncomfortable. I'm just adjusting to the newness, and trying to learn how to play with guys is a process and them learning how to play off me, vice versa. I think it's just going to be a process."

That word again: process.

"Honestly I don't know," assistant coach Ettore Messina, subbing for Popovich, said when asked for his estimation of how long it will take Aldridge to feel comfortable with the San Antonio system. "All of us are getting to know each other, day after day. The good thing is that he seems at ease with the team, with the staff, with everything. Nobody is forcing nothing. I think it will come naturally ..."

They got one of the most talented big men in basketball to come to their city. It'll be fun to see how they put the pieces together.

– Sacramento Kings coach George Karl

There is, of course, no coach who reads a calendar better. Sweat a slow start, if it happens? Popovich is the guy who works to keep the Spurs in a low gear for months. If the Spurs' world comes together in the second half of the season? Other playoff teams have a problem.

Aldridge and Duncan as the bigs. Leonard. Parker. Green's shooting. Maybe some leftover Ginobili frenetic energy in the postseason. Another free-agent acquisition, David West, in an important reserve role.

"My gut says they want to groom him to be Tim Duncan for 10 years, when Tim Duncan retires, which might be five years from now," Kings coach George Karl said. "I think they want a big-man combination and they got a great player. They got one of the most talented big men in basketball to come to their city. It'll be fun to see how they put the pieces together."

In time. For now, it was just one exhibition game, even if it was not just another game. It was Aldridge playing for the Spurs for the first time, and it was a little overwhelming.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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