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LaMarcus Aldridge Comes Back to Brooklyn

After retiring last April, veteran center returns to Nets

At first, LaMarcus Aldridge was just trying to figure out if it was OK to get back on a treadmill. Forget about running up and down a basketball court.

“In the beginning, I was so freaked out,” said Aldridge. “Sean (Marks) said, ‘can we get you on the court and put a little monitor on you?’ And I was like, ‘no. I don’t even want to be on the court.’ I was freaked out to the point where I didn’t want to be on the court.”

This was during those uncertain days in April before Aldridge shocked the NBA by announcing his retirement in the middle of his 15th season in the league. The veteran big man cited an irregular heartbeat, a condition he had been managing for years. He knew what it was supposed to feel like and how to deal with it.

But when the Nets played the Lakers on Saturday, April 10, something was different.

“If you have this checklist in your mind of something you’ve dealt with your whole career and how to get out of it, and you do all three of those things and you don’t get out of it, then you start freaking out,” said Aldridge. “OK, like, this is what I’ve kind of learned and what I’ve been taught. This is how I fix what’s going on. So that night, A, B and C wasn’t working for me. So I was like, what is this? And then you get home and then you have an irregular rhythm more than normal, and then chest tightness. It was just a combination of things I had never experienced that came after what I had never experienced. There was just kind of an overwhelming 24 hours of new experiences with a heart condition.”

Five days later, after missing two games Brooklyn’s two games in the interim, Aldridge announced he was retiring, believing it was best to focus on his health while also removing himself as a potential distraction to the team he had joined less than a month earlier.

“I felt like I was kind of keeping the guys here in suspense, dangling over their head — is he coming back, is he not,” said Aldridge. “So I just felt like that was the cleanest thing I could do for myself mentally and for the guys here was just to walk away. They knew I was done. I wouldn’t be in the back of their minds as things went on, and I had the time and could just figure it out.”

But five months later, Aldridge was back at Barclays Center for Brooklyn’s annual media day, and this week he is back on the court with the team for training camp at the University of San Diego.

He got back on that treadmill, the starting point to figuring out his comfort level with a daily lifestyle away from the game. Aldridge and his doctors built off that, doing more testing, never hitting any red lights, eventually concluding that it was safe for him to return to the NBA. With that, his focus shifted back to playing again, putting on hold some of the post-playing interests he had started to consider.

“As I was going through the process, I did start going down the road a little bit,” said Aldridge. “I did NBATV. I don’t know if anyone saw that. That was a different experience. And then I was just meeting with different real estate companies. I’m big into real estate companies, commercial stocks, I did that. But I think coming back and winning would be dope. That’s the reason why I’m back. I want to win. I still have something to give. I still love the game. I didn’t want to let those three days write the end of my career. I wanted to do it on my own terms. And that’s why I did what I needed to do to come back. And that’s what I did.”

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With that, Aldridge resumes a career that will likely take him to the Hall of Fame one day, with five All-NBA honors, seven All-Star Games, and career averages of 19.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. With 19,951 points, he’s just shy of becoming the 48th player in NBA history to score 20,000 career points (assuming Chris Paul, with 19,978 points, beats him to the milestone at the start of the season).

In deciding to play again, Aldridge was also focused on returning to Brooklyn, even after having such a limited experience with the Nets. He played five games with the team last season, averaging 12.8 points and shooting 52.1 percent in 26.0 minutes per game.

“We all saw what he was capable of doing and the dynamic that he added to the team both on the court and off the court,” said Marks, who said he initially tried to talk Aldridge out of a return. “It gives (coach) Steve (Nash) another very versatile big to play with, so after he had cleared those — the specialists had given him the green light — and he had come to terms with it on his own, he was fighting to come back. And I think that’s what you love to see in a player, that they want to be here. And he’s well aware of what’s at stake and so forth, which is to be that last team standing, and he wants to be a part of it.”

For his part, Aldridge watched Brooklyn’s razor-thin second-round playoff loss to the Milwaukee Bucks and wondered if his presence could have made a difference against the eventual NBA champions.

“I knew I was going to come back here,” said Aldridge. “It was only a matter of unfinished business. I never got to really experience it with these guys. I never got to the postseason with these guys. It was kind of like the best thing for me was to come back here and let’s see what could have been or whatever. I enjoyed the guys here. They welcomed me with open arms. It was a very short stint here, but I enjoyed every day of it so why not come back?”

Aldridge’s return, along with the signing of Paul Millsap a week later, greatly lengthens Brooklyn’s options at center and in the frontcourt in general. The 6-foot-11 big brings an old school post game on the block — including distributing out of the post — with shooting range that he has extended out to the 3-point line in the latter stages of his career.

“It's great to have him back and we loved having him around last year, those couple of weeks,” said Kevin Durant. “He felt like this was a great environment as well, so it's good to get him back and have him playing again. He was like 49 points away from 20,000 and I was like, I want him to get that so having him be back with us he'll probably hit that mark pretty early in the season and I'm looking forward to being a part of that with him and it's so good to see him playing again. I know LaMarcus for a long time and he loves to play, he loves to be around the guys and I'm excited for him.”

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