As All-Star Weekend comes to a close we address related questions sent in by e-mail.
What's your call on LaMarcus Aldridge's comments from the All Star Game? I couldn't decide whether to take offense when he said, "I definitely want to win that championship so I'm definitely listening to everything everybody says. I definitely enjoy being in Portland, I love the city. But things might come to an end one day and when that happens, I'll listen then." I like his game. I understand his talent. I'm not sure I trust him. He's never seemed like a Portland guy to me. Is Aldridge disloyal? Will he bolt the first chance he gets? I worry about this at night.
I'll agree with you on one small point. I don't think Aldridge seems like a "Portland guy" at heart either. I don't think he's against Portland, mind you. He fits here but I don't think he'd mind if he got a chance to play in Texas or on a marquee team someday. I'd say he's fine with Portland but not attached to Portland.
But last time I checked, NBA contracts don't read "Valid for Life". The Blazers might not want Aldridge forever. They have the right to trade him. Aldridge also has the right to explore his options when his contract expires. I'm good with that, the Blazers are good with that, Aldridge is good with that. You should be good with that too.
Aldridge actually said the right thing here in my estimation. He didn't deny that he'll ever leave Portland. That would either be naive or disingenuous. Instead he acknowledged the possibility, placed it in the future, and said he'd take a reasonable course of action when the time comes. That's not disloyalty. That's giving the audience some credit for understanding how the system works just like he does. I trust him more for this kind of quote than I would had he patronized everybody with a mushy P.R. cliche answer.
Had the Blazers been right in the thick of a Conference Finals series it might be different. Then again, Aldridge probably would not have chosen these words in that situation. As it was, he was sitting in front of reporters during his personal Groundhog Day, his one chance to peek his head out of the den in front of the national media before he tucks back in for three months of Pacific Northwest media winter. There's no possible harm in this statement in that kind of environment.
If anything, this shows the Blazers and their fans where the franchise needs to head. Aldridge's quote started out with, "I definitely want to win that championship." Some folks love every player who comes through, extoll their virtues and bristle at any criticism, contend that just following a team in red and black is enough to provide happiness. I get it. Good for them...they're likelier to be happier than most fans. But nobody else anywhere--including players, coaches, management--feels that way or acts on those impulses. All those professional NBA folks want to win. If the Blazers wish to attract and retain truly praiseworthy players they need to get into contention. Players will always flock to New York or L.A. for extra endorsement money and "fringe benefits". This is the only way for the Blazers to keep up. If they don't win they're going to become a glorified farm club with full-price tickets.
The good news is, winning works. The Blazers had NO trouble attracting talent during the two most successful extended runs in their history: the Drexler years and the traveling All-Star club of the late 90's-early '00's. Most of their moves came via trade but every year a nice free agent or two would be knocking at the door.
The bad news is, like the country's economy the NBA has been divided by an increasingly steep peak. Folks on the rich side tend to slide towards richer. Folks on the other side, the opposite. The Blazers are on the wrong side of that divide right now without a clear path to the good part. If they don't come up with a sustainable formula for success they can expect their best players to view the franchise as a stepping stone on the way to real success instead of a successful destination on its own merits.
If you don't want to hear any quotes even remotely like this, hope that management is smart, players dedicated, and that both will do whatever necessary to put the Blazers in a situation where these words don't have to be said.
11 minutes, 2 shots, 0 points, and less court time than anybody but an ancient and crippled Tim Duncan??? LaMarcus Aldridge is the best power forward in the league! Maybe he's boring compared to some but you'd think actual NBA people would recognize. He got screwed in this year's ASG! When will people stop dissing the Blazers?
The All-Star game is entertainment. "Boring compared to some" (which is not how I'd put it, but they're your words) equals not as much entertainment. Ask me if I'd rather see Blake Griffin in this kind of defense-free exhibition game and I'll say yes. Ask me which forward I'd take if one shot would decide the future of the planet, though, and I'll take Aldridge. Heck, plenty of Clippers fans would take Aldridge. So you don't have to worry about the affront being personal or an indictment of LaMarcus' talent. Match up the venue, the purpose, and his playing style and you're going to find your answer.
Some will scream that Tim Duncan was "boring" too, and that's basically correct. Duncan, however, has how many rings now? If and when LMA gets to that point you won't have to worry about him being a fringe All-Star anymore.
It's not that I support Aldridge getting only 11 minutes. Rather I recognize that every year somebody gets "only" 11 minutes. Given his style, his native team, their position on the roster, and his popularity with the masses, I figured going in that Aldridge would be that guy.
The solution: Love Blazers games more than you love the All-Star game. Don't regard any credit won at that showcase as anything more than a temporary, fickle, and shallow accolade. Understand that winning--particularly winning a title--is the only permanent record and set your sights accordingly. If you know who Aldridge is, if he's playing excellently for you, and the Blazers win, that's all that matters.
Do you think Damian Lillard upped his national profile at the All-Star Game? He blew that dunk in the Shining Stars game and didn't have that great a night but then he won the skills challenge. What will people remember him for?
See everything we just said about Aldridge above and apply to Lillard.
Nobody will remember anything that happened on Friday night except that Chuck's team won when everybody thought Shaq's would. I'm actually kind of mad that I didn't see that coming, as everybody was clamoring about the flashy Irving-Lillard backcourt. It's an amazing combination, true, but in hindsight we should have remembered that no defense is played in these games. Lillard, Irving, and the other offensive stars excel because of great escape power and accuracy against the best NBA defenses. Without any defense at all, what's the offensive difference between them and a decent young 6'9" forward? Much of their advantage is lost. On the other hand 6'9" will always out-rebound 6'1". On behalf of the entire NBA blogosphere, nostra culpa, Mr. Barkley. We were wrong. You were right.
If you're going to participate in any kind of contest it's always better to win than to lose. People will remember the Skills Challenge win because it's an individual honor and because some incredibly high-profile guys have won it. So I'd say Lillard's PR result from the weekend was a strong positive. Rookie of the Year will weigh more than any of this, though, so no worries. He's already well on his way to the national push that Portland fanatics so desperately crave.
Keep those questions coming to the e-mail address below (with "Mailbag" in the subject line, if you please).
We're going to talk about this more tomorrow, but a heads up that we have about a month to purchase the rest of the 700 or so tickets we're giving away to underprivileged kids for Blazer's Edge Night, April 17th versus the Warriors. You can help by purchasing a ticket or two to donate. It's easier than ever this year. Simply CLICK HERE for details.