The Hometown Kid Comes Back Home
A return to Minnesota was always in the back of Cole Aldrich’s mind.
Not to visit. Aldrich already came back to Plymouth during each offseason, but to play for good.
“You never really know if it would happen, or when it would ever happen,” Aldrich said.
Well, it has indeed happened.
The Minnesota Timberwolves announced earlier this week that they had signed Aldrich to a deal. The center was born in Burnsville before he attended Bloomington Jefferson High School. During his senior season, he was named the state’s player of the year by both the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press.
He’s been almost everywhere since then. He attended Kansas, was a Second Team All-American in 2010 and an NCAA champion in 2008. He declared for the 2010 NBA Draft and was taken 11th overall by the New Orleans Hornets before being traded to the Oklahoma City. Since then, he’s played for the Rockets, Kings, Knicks and most recently, the Clippers.
And after being in so many unfamiliar places, Aldrich is now in a very familiar place. Home.
Aldrich said he first knew it was a possibility when Tom Thibodeau called him when he was vacationing with his wife in Italy.
“It was just kind of an easy conversation,” Aldrich said.
Aldrich nearly played for Thibodeau when he was coaching the Chicago Bulls and was able to get to know the defensive-minded coach when he observed the Clippers last season during the preseason.
“I think he understood the person and player that I am,” Aldrich said.
Aldrich is humble. He chats with media members, joking that one should cover his phone bill after calling him in Italy after the signing was first reported.
His father was in attendance, but only for a few hours because he was going back to work after the press conference.
“The old man missed a few hours of work today, so he’s going back to work here in a little bit,” Aldrich joked.
Aldrich said that the financial security of a multi-year contract, after bouncing around the league since 2010, is nice, but nothing really changes. He’s still going to come to work and work just as hard if his team is doing great or is struggling.
It goes back to how he was raised and who he is as a person. He may not have had the big contract, but he didn’t need it to feel complete on or off the court.
“I’ve been wealthy for a long time. Ever since I was a kid: great family, friends. To me, that’s what it’s all about.”
Aldrich is trying to find ways to help the community, the community he is from. But with that comes hometown pressure, right? It’s something Aldrich accepts, but not something he’s super worried about.
And being the type of player Aldrich is, he shouldn’t need to worry about not having the fan support. He stopped during the press conference to show us a scar on his forehead and even took out a removeable tooth. The original got knocked out while playing physical defense, something he loves to do. And something that Thibodeau will love.
“I’m a defensive player,” Aldrich said. “I love to get my nose dirty. As you can tell, I’ve got a few scars and I’ve got a missing tooth. It kind of fits the groove. (I’m) just excited to play for (Thibodeau) and the organization is going to be really good in a few years.”
Aldrich brings toughness and is coming off of his best season as a pro with a Los Angeles Clippers team that grabbed the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference. He played in 60 games and averaged 5.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. Those numbers don’t exactly scream, “free agency steal!” But when you consider the fact that he was backing up All-NBA Defensive center DeAndre Jordan, it looks better. Per 36 minutes, Aldrich averaged a career-high 14.8 points to go with 13 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game.
“Playing behind Jordan, it’s always a tall task because he’s one of the best centers defensively,” Aldrich said. “… Going in, my goal was always to try to do my best to keep my level where it was when he was in the game. For me, it was defensively. I had the opportunity to score the ball on pick and rolls sometime, but defensively I wanted to make that mark. For me, the next few seasons, that’s where I want to do it.”
He hasn’t talked to Thibodeau about his role with the team yet, but given what he did last season, it’s easy to see where he’ll fit in. The Wolves lacked interior defense and Aldrich will bring that, whether he starts games with Karl-Anthony Towns at the center, or comes off the bench (more likely) for 15 minutes per game.
Whatever his role is on his hometown team, it would be extremely satisfying for him if the was part of a Timberwolves' resurgence and bringing the Wolves back to the playoffs.
“I would love it. I’ve been a fan of the Wolves my whole life. Just to kind of get back, I remember I was sitting in the arena when they went to the conference finals against the Lakers back in ’04. That was my freshman year of high school. I remember the atmosphere and the excitement. Being in the playoffs this last year and my first few years, just seeing those crowds and knowing what our city would be to have that crowd would be awesome.”