Randolph recalls watching the 2006 NBA draft and was curious about the number 2 pick coming to Portland. He talked to the coaching staff and management:
All in all, Randolph remembered, they intended for this player to one day assume the mantle as the next dominant Trail Blazers power forward, a role Randolph then occupied, that had been handed down from Wallace before him. LaMarcus Aldridge would extend a proud lineage. He was "up next."
That's not the way Aldridge remembers it:
Um, I'm glad Zach knew, because when I was drafted, all I heard was, 'He's a project, he's soft . . . And I didn't play [that first year]. I was in and out of the lineup. So I'm glad Zach knew, because I definitely didn't know.
Nate McMillan, Portland coach at the time, has his own take on why the two players might have seen things so differently: Brandon Roy, the other major-player the organization managed to land that year, may have influenced perceptions.
"He kind of doubted himself a little, especially when Brandon got off to a good start," McMillan said of Aldridge. "He could have looked at that as Brandon was The Man and the team was built around him."
This story chronicles the early rivalry between LA and Z-Bo with their different playing styles. This evidently led to some crazy practices. McMillan recalls the relationship as mutually supportive:
"Zach could've really been a nasty guy, had a nasty attitude about these young guys who were coming to take his position with this organization," McMillan said. "He knows they're going to be the future of the organization because he was once in that same position when he came in and Rasheed and those guys were there. He could've had an attitude toward the organization, but he didn't."
Randolph's off-the-court issues and Aldridge's continuing improvement led to Zach's departure and LaMarcus taking his spot in the starting lineup. Aldridge would eventually become a four-time All-Star . Now the two players are battling each other in the playoffs.
LA has come a long way since those early years of doubt and he seems pleased that Z-Bo has also moved on from the "Jail Blazers" era. As an example he recalls Game 1 and the Grizzlies taking five shots in a row with Randolph not involved in any of the plays.
"The old Z-Bo would've been cussing people out, throwing headbands in the stands," Aldridge said, "but the new Z-Bo, as long as they're winning, I think he's good. "That's been great for this team because he's changed so much."
It remains to be seen how this long-time rivalry will play out, but McMillan, current assistant coach with the Indiana Pacers, has fond memories while he watches the matchup on TV.
"If I was betting, Zach was thinking, 'Yeah, they're bringing this young guy in, but he ain't better than me.'" said McMillan. "And I'm sure LaMarcus was thinking, 'Zach got game, but I can be better than him.'
McMillan is certain that each player still thinks he's better than the other. That's the way it should be.