LaMarcus Aldridge's Request: 'I Want A True Center To Play With'
While LaMarcus Aldridge denies every requesting a trade, he readily admits that he wanted the team to make improvements during the 2013 offseason. And really, who could blame him? After being one of the centerpieces of a rebuild, then enduring a "reload," then missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons, how could a player, particularly of Aldridge's stature, do anything but voice some displeasure at the way the last two seasons had ended? You could even argue, as Nicolas Batum did during his interview session at media day, that it's the responsibility of a leader to pipe up when a situation seems untenable.
So while Aldridge might not have asked to be traded, he didn't hesitate to speak his mind when Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey asked for his opinion on Portland's roster. And he did make a request, though it had much more to do with bringing players to Portland than it did sending Aldridge elsewhere.
"Neil was asking what was the one thing that I really wanted or I needed," said Aldridge during Portland's 2013 media day at the Moda Center. "I said 'I want a true center to play with.' And then within two weeks we had (Robin) Lopez… I just wanted to play with a big fella."
Now Aldridge has the type of center he's always wanted: a big, defensive-minded center who will keep opposing teams from devoting all of their front-line efforts to wearing Aldridge out.
"I think it's important to have a big guy behind LaMarcus," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. "Certainly (Aldridge) playing center at times is going to be part of the equation, but having a defensive-minded center behind him, the only guy that probably falls in that category for Aldridge would have been Joel Przybilla. I'm not comparing LaMarcus to Dirk (Nowitzki) but it was very important that we had Tyson Chandler, he came in a made a difference for Dirk … I think it's important when you have a power forward like that that he doesn't get worn out on both ends and having Robin really shores that up for him."
While everyone on Portland's roster credited JJ Hickson for his effort playing out of position last season, they also knew they couldn't enter another season with a 6-9 power forward starting at center. And even though the team is very optimistic about what Meyers Leonard brings to the team, Olshey noted that the team would not sacrifice wins for the sake of development, hence bringing in Lopez to start while Leonard continues to learn.
"Just watching Rob and his size, his presence, his ability to protect the paint, clearly that was an issue for us last year," said Olshey. "You look at how many close games we lose where a stop and a score here or there could have shifted whether we were a playoff team or whether we weren't.
"Robin is also a great guy. He plays with a lot of energy. The guys are responding to him and he's got a real team-first mentality. He's a guy who is tracking up. He's coming off the best year of his career and now he's playing in the same front court with a two-time all-star, so the game becomes even easier for him."
For his part, Lopez is also excited about the pairing, noting how effective Aldridge's go-to moves are and that the two starting together should be "pretty intimidating down low" for opposing big men.
"I'm really primarily focusing on defense," said Lopez. "I want to be somebody who detours the lane, makes people think twice about driving to the basket. I think we've got a lot of good big men, we've got a lot of big big men, so I don't see why we can't come together as a group and make that a goal and a reality."
While Lopez is spending his time thinking about the defense, Aldridge is already considering how playing alongside Lopez is going to open up his game on offense.
"I think he's going to give me more single coverage because I feel like (the opponent) have to put that bigger guy on him," said Aldridge, who drew opposing teams' biggest defender last season due to Hickson being undersized. "They don't want to leave Wesley (Matthews), Nic, Dorrel Wright, Mo Williams. I don't think you want to leave those guys too much so I think I'm going to get more single coverage. I think I'm going to be able to crash the offensive boards more because I'm going to have the actual smaller guy on me."
Which Aldridge took into account when asked by Olshey this offseason about the kind of player he wanted to share the paint with.
"I remember last year playing against (Lopez), he crashed the boards like crazy, clogged the paint really, really good." said Aldridge. "So I was like 'Yeah, I'd like him on my team.'"
Which was a request Olshey was willing and ultimately able to fulfill.