The spectacular circus is gone. Whereas LaMarcus Aldridge was once serenaded with glitz and glamour, arriving at one meeting after another meeting, one city after another city, it is quiet now. For the select few, free agency had always been a game of proportion detailing who can offer what and how much. It was also the romance game, the red carpet pull out, the royalty treatment. Many envy it, others see it as celebrity run amok in a culture that invests heavily in the accumulation of mad money. Even LaMarcus Aldridge recently admitted, free agency can be a drain.
The system bears some responsibility. Unlike most job seekers, NBA players are told where they have to work the next five years. Fiscal considerations coupled with logic keep them in place for another four years. Their free agency arrives after year nine. It is the first choice they ever had to make. From a distance, it feels liberating and perhaps the experience would be more rewarding if it wasn’t all so damned public with people taking sides and making bets and in the middle of your life when they are outside of your life.
As in anything you want, there is ecstasy for a hot second when you get what you asked for. And then the reality sets in once you realize what you have done. At 30 years old, LaMarcus Aldridge is leaving the only home he ever knew as a professional adult. He’s moving south and even though he is native to Texas, he isn’t native to the Spurs and their culture, to Greg Popovich, to the city, and most importantly to the expectations.
In Portland, a city that hasn’t been to the Western Conference Finals in 15 years, the expectations were aligned with the right to hope. It was never grounded in some very basic truth. The Blazers, even with Damian Lillard, were a nice team but not a great team. Getting to the playoffs was the thing. Making it past the first round and finding a way to keep it all going was icing on the cake. Losing was never crushing for the culture whose last title was 38 years ago.
But in San Antonio, the expectations for LaMarcus Aldridge to lead the Spurs to their third NBA Finals appearance in four years is through the roof even as Aldridge has never been past the second round of the playoffs. It’s the phenomena of sports. The shuffling of the deck is supposed to yield dividends but a team on paper is a team on paper. So many things happen. And right about now LaMarcus Aldridge acknowledges this is different.
“I don’t like change. That’s been a little bit difficult for me, trying to get used to a new city. I got lost like twice yesterday. That’s not fun. In the end, it should be great for me. Right now, It’s been tough because everything is new.” (San Antonio Express News)
Aldridge spent about 5 seconds considering the Los Angeles Lakers and you have to wonder if he is getting lost in San Antonio, Southern California would have depressed him.
On court, the chemistry of the new Spurs (Aldridge, David West) and the old timer Spurs (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli) should be seamless. But the pressure for Aldridge to perform since he is the highest paid Spur will be at a fevered pitch. It shouldn’t be that way but we judge a man by the money he makes and if he deserves it, if he earns it. It all looked easy a few months ago when Aldridge was excited for this new turn in his life. Now there are these little complications.
When training camp starts, when summer days are over and unpacking boxes are over and the city feels more like a fit, Aldridge will be in his comfort zone and then his only problem will be adapting his game to the Spurs system and adjusting to Greg Popovich. The Spurs are, once again, one of the favorites to win the NBA title. Like the city itself, those lofty championship expectations are not familiar for Aldridge. There is only one way for him to meet the accelerated demands of excellence and justify the move south and that eye boggling contract with tons of zeroes: have a spectacular year. Get to the NBA Finals for the first time ever.
photo via llananba