Lillard, Stotts Look Back On Time With Aldridge After His Abrupt Retirement

by Casey Holdahl
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It took a while, but the past few years, it seems as though Trail Blazers fans have made their peace with LaMarcus Aldridge. While a few never faulted the 6-11 forward for leaving the Trail Blazers after nine season to sign as a free agent with the San Antonio Spurs, the majority of diehards in Rip City held some level of animus toward Aldridge that ranged anywhere in between hurt feelings over being mislead to white-hot rage stemming from a perceived betrayal.

But time generally heals all wounds, and the same could be said of the rift between Aldridge and Trail Blazers’ fans. After being roundly booed when returning to the Moda Center for his first few seasons with the Spurs, the distain seemed to die down, especially after Portland started to have success in excess of San Antonio's.

So when news broke that Aldridge and the Spurs were parting ways midseason in order to allow him to sign with another team, Trail Blazers fans were more than happy to let bygones be bygones if it meant a return to Portland. After five years, fans were hopeful for a reunion, and even when Aldridge eventually chose to sign with the Brooklyn Nets, few in Portland seemed to hold it against him.

And with the announcement on Thursday that Aldridge, after spending five games with the Nets, was abruptly retiring after 15 seasons due to an irregular heartbeat, it provided fans, players and coaches alike an opportunity to reflect on his career and legacy in Portland.

“He’s had a remarkable career, I don’t know how many -- five, six, seven -- All-Star appearances, he was a part of winning teams in Portland and in San Antonio,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts, who also listed Aldridge was in the “Top 5” in franchise history. “My second and third year we overachieved primarily because of him and what he brought to the table. Obviously we had a good team, that starting unit those two years really worked well together, but my first three years, he was the foundation. Dame was a young player and we relied on LaMarcus a lot.”

Like many who have played in Portland, much of Aldridge’s legacy comes back to question of “what if?” What if Brandon Roy and Greg Oden’s bodies didn’t fail them? What if Wesley Matthews’ Achilles didn’t rupture at the end of a season in which Aldridge led Portland to 51 wins? And maybe the most hard to swallow at this point: What if Aldridge had re-signed in Portland rather than leaving for San Antonio?

“(Aldridge) is one of the greatest players to play in Portland,” said Damian Lillard, who started alongside Aldridge in his first three seasons. “He was at the peak of his career when I got here, he was at his best. I was a two-time All-Star as his teammate my second and third year and with my development, had he stayed, CJ’s development, who knows what that could have turned into. He’s one of the greatest players to play here, his jersey should be retired here. It’s just sad that he couldn’t go out on his own terms.”

While Aldridge’s career was cut too short, both in Portland and in general, he retires as one of the great big men of his generation and one of the greatest Trail Blazers of all time. He’s first in franchise history in rebounds(5,434), third in points (12,562) and field goals (5,121), fourth in blocks (658) and minutes (22,972) and fifth in games (658) and was the best player on the 2013-14 team that defeated the Houston Rockets to advance past the first round of the playoffs in nearly 15 years. He might have departed on not the best of terms, and he didn’t reach the heights that neither he, the team nor the fans had hoped for, but now that this playing days are over, it’s worth remembering that by any metric, the Trail Blazers were and are better off because of LaMarcus Aldridge.

“We had some good times,” said Lillard. “He was at a point in his career where I was still kinda young, we had just lost in the playoffs and he wanted more, he wanted something different. But we had some great times.”


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