Jordan Conn of Grantland.com has written an extended piece that runs down the construction of the Portland Trail Blazers and assesses their chances at contention. The article includes a passage on the relationship between Blazers coach Terry Stotts and All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge.
Stotts made efforts to increase Aldridge's influence on various aspects of the team. "I view this as a partnership," says Stotts. "He has just as much invested in this team as I do." So Stotts relies on Aldridge to serve as the voice of the players. When he's wondering how hard to push in practice, he asks Aldridge how much the team can handle. When he's thinking of rescheduling a flight, or of arranging a team meal, he relies on Aldridge to let him know what works best for the rest of the guys. "Before this year, I couldn't do that," says Aldridge. "I felt like it was my team, but if I ever spoke up, I was just forcing it. It's more natural now." That's partly due to Aldridge's maturation. It's also partly due to Watson, who's been known to pull Aldridge aside and remind him when it's time to speak. And it's partly due to Stotts, who insists on granting Aldridge ownership, sometimes even consulting him on substitution patterns, asking which of two players is a better fit at certain points in a game.
In the offseason, Aldridge declared himself satisfied by the new additions, even predicting that Portland would be enough improved to make the playoffs as the seventh seed. But 26-8? "No one expected this," he says. "But you could see signs of it. We looked good in camp and it was a question of, 'Can we do it in games?' Then it was good in preseason and the question was, 'Is it going to be there in the regular season?' And now it is.
"Soon," Aldridge adds, "it's going to be, 'Will it be there in the playoffs?'"
The full piece -- complete with "Lunch meat" reference -- is right here.
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-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter