The Trail Blazers’ 50-year anniversary season is temporarily on pause as the NBA goes on hiatus to slow the spread of COVID-19. During that break, Blazer’s Edge is counting down the top 100 Blazers: players, executives, and other influencers who made the franchise what it is today.
No. 10 | LaMarcus Aldridge
Games Played with Blazers: Regular Season 648, Postseason 34
*PTS: 19.4 | REB: 8.4 | ORB: 2.7 | FG%: 48.5%
*Statistics are pulled from a player’s time in Portland
Joined Club: June 2006, draft-day trade for Tyrus Thomas and Victor Khryapa after being selected 2nd overall in the 2006 NBA Draft
Departed Club: July 2015, via free agency
Place in History: LaMarcus Aldridge came to the Trail Blazers as part of an eventful draft night in 2006, one of the biggest evenings the franchise has ever seen. In a move that would cause fans at sister-site BlogABull to swear for the better part of a decade, the Chicago Bulls selected the 6’11 forward from Texas second overall, then traded him to Portland for fellow-draftee Tyrus Thomas and bench forward Victor Khryapa. Thomas would score 1,989 points in his three-year stint with the Bulls, Khryapa 105. Aldridge would obliterate their combined career totals with the Bulls each and every season with the Blazers, save those marred by injury. And LaMarcus Aldridge played a lot of seasons.
For all the fireworks, Aldridge’s rookie season was underwhelming. He sat third in the power forward rotation behind long-time franchise star Zach Randolph—who would average 23.6 points per game that year—and former phenom Travis Outlaw. Aldridge was bumped to center. It was a tough position to learn and, the way the Blazers played it then, ill-suited to his skill set.
Aldridge was not going to fail; he was far too good for that. He shot over 50% from the floor, scoring nine per game and grabbing enough rebounds per minute to look credible. But Joel Przybilla and “Former All-Star” Jamaal Magloire had experience and the inside track at the position. Their style determined how the position would be played. Aldridge could play back to the basket, two feet from the hoop, but it wasn’t his thing.
As a result, Aldridge spent his first season in the NBA watching his teammate, and lower draft pick, Brandon Roy score 17 points per game while playing starter’s minutes and earning the Rookie of the Year Award. This was not how the script was supposed to play out.
As the year progressed, though, it became apparent that Aldridge was too good to keep down. With the playoffs out of reach, Head Coach Nate McMillan inserted him into the starting lineup for the last couple months of the year. Aldridge responded with five games of 20 or more in the month of March, including a 30-point, 12-19 outing against the Charlotte Hornets. Low public profile or not, the burgeoning star was ready to break out.
Aldridge’s chances of becoming the #1 option took another hit when Portland won the 2007 NBA Lottery. They selected Ohio State center Greg Oden, a once-in-a-generation talent who was scheduled to dominate the position for years. As a result, Aldridge was now a power forward. To make room at the position, the Blazers shipped Randolph to New York for reserve center Channing Frye.
Aldridge would start 76 games in his second season, scoring 17.8 points with 7.6 rebounds. Playing power forward allowed him to drift outside more on offense. Nearly seven feet tall with long arms, his release point was all but unreachable. His shot was accurate too. Opponents worrying about Roy’s offense suddenly found that leaving Aldridge open, or even single-guarded, was a bad idea. He’d set up in his favored spots, wait for the ball, then deliver it with a baby-soft touch.
The Blazers needed Aldridge more than they realized. A pre-season injury to Oden kept the prized center out the entire year. With the door open, Aldridge was now taking nearly as many shots, and scoring nearly as many points, as Roy. Life was good. The Blazers posted their first .500 record in four seasons.
The Blazers finally put it all together in 2008-09. With Oden returning, Aldridge humming, and Roy on an unbelievable tear, Portland jumped from 41 wins to 54. Brandon was a symphony, Greg dynamite, but LaMarcus was an offensive machine. Everybody knew what he was going to do. Everybody knew how he was going to do it. It didn’t do them any good. If it was game time, it was also time for Aldridge to post 18 and 8 again. Roy was getting All-Star nods, but LaMarcus was finally getting respect.
The Blazers would return to the playoffs that season after a five-year hiatus. They were surprised and bullied by the more experienced Houston Rockets, enduring a six-game series loss. Roy was brilliant, scoring 27 points per game; Aldridge added 19.5 with nearly 2 blocks. He had trouble chasing Houston forward Luis Scola, but no more so than Oden had with Yao Ming. It was a humbling learning experience, but scoring 20 points per game while receiving on the job training isn’t bad.
2009-10 would bring another 50-win season, another 18 and 8 year from Aldridge, and another first-round playoffs loss, this time to the Phoenix Suns. Oden was injured again. People openly wondered whether the Blazers had plateaued (if that was even possible with a trio of stars 25-years-old and younger).
In reality, the situation was far more dire than a stall in the growth curve. After falling in the 21st game of the season, Oden would never return. Even worse, Roy’s knees had deteriorated to the point that his effective shelf life was measured in minutes, not years. With dreams of a triumphant Blazers dynasty dying, the only figure still moving forward was Aldridge.
In 2010-11, Aldridge was finally the clear #1 option. Coach McMillan stopped asking what LaMarcus Aldridge could do for the offense and started asking what the offense could do for LaMarcus Aldridge. It was Aldridge’s most diverse, in some ways his best, offensive season. He’d hit 50% from the field on a mix of jump shots, pick and rolls, and swoops to the hoop. He played low and high, moving with the rhythm of point guard Andre Miller, who knew how and when to feed him the ball. Aldridge averaged a career-high 3.4 offensive rebounds per game that year. Combined with 21.8 points, it made him one of the most potent offensive threats in the league.
Aldridge received the first of five consecutive All-Star nominations in 2011-12, scoring 21.7 and shooting 51.2% from the field. He practically lived in what had become his favorite spot on the floor: the left elbow, right outside the free throw line. The Blazers ran a steady diet of pick and pop for him. Alternately, he simply posted high, then spun for the jump shot if he was guarded by one defender, passed it out to an open guard for a three-pointer if he was guarded by two. Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum looked particularly good on the weak side in this system, benefiting from wide-open looks.
Unfortunately, the man making entry passes to Aldridge that year was Raymond Felton. It didn’t take long for opponents to realize that they could double-team Aldridge from Felton’s spot, leaving the point guard open at the arc. Felton was, and is, a good player. Turning him into a catch-and-shoot marksman was like asking Indiana Jones to become a snake charmer. Not gonna happen. Despite Aldridge’s production, the Blazers won only 28 of 66 games in a lockout-shortened season, failing to make the playoffs.
2012 brought a new General Manager, Neil Olshey, and a new Head Coach, Terry Stotts, into Aldridge’s life. It also brought a new point guard to feed him the ball: a young lottery pick named Damian Lillard.
Unlike Felton, Lillard could hit threes. He could also do a whole lot more. Aldridge was still the clear first option. Stotts was no fool. You don’t trade in an ATM machine for a craps table. But Lillard also brought motion and penetration back into the offense in a dynamic display that would earn him Rookie of the Year Honors, just as Roy had six years before. Portland still missed the playoffs, but 21 per game from Aldridge and 19 from the Lillard gave them hope.
Despite the new turn, rumblings during the Summer of 2013 painted Aldridge as unhappy. He was 28, headed into his eighth season. He had finally—perhaps belatedly—gotten the respect and touches he had merited, but that wasn’t the only goal. He also wanted to win. Rebuilding around Lillard wasn’t likely to produce a contender before Aldridge was well into his thirties. Whispers in back halls intimated that he wanted the Blazers to do something to accelerate the process as his free agency summer of 2015 was looming.
Portland’s moves that summer included drafting Lehigh guard CJ McCollum and trading for a tall, sturdy center named Robin Lopez. It wasn’t an overwhelming haul, especially since McCollum would spend much of his rookie season injured. But Lopez’ defense and play near the restricted zone freed up the rest of the Blazers to roam the floor. The lineup of Aldridge, Batum, Matthews, Lopez and Lillard proved mobile, skilled, and Portland’s offense went from mediocre to league-leading. Their defense went from awful to mediocre. They were tough rebounders that got back in transition.
In the exact year Aldridge asked for more success, his team won 54 and defeated the Rockets in Round 1 of the playoffs before falling to the San Antonio Spurs in the second. LaMarcus was still the hub...more than ever. He scored 23.6 per game taking a career-high 20.6 attempts from the field.
Still, things were not quiet. Though Aldridge was the main man, Lillard’s star was ascending nationally, once again mirroring Roy’s meteoric rise in the mid-2000’s. Lillard earned his own All-Star nomination in 2013-14, competing in all five All-Star weekend events. His interview skills proved just as dazzling as his dribbling. Aldridge was ticking all the boxes, winning and producing as well as anybody in franchise history ever had. It was becoming Dame’s team anyway.
Lillard’s enormous shot to close the series against the Rockets that spring, sending Portland to the second round for the first time in forever, sealed the deal. Aldridge scored a brain-searing 26.2 points over 11 post-season games, including 46 and 43 to save Games 1 and 2 of that Houston series. “The Shot” still dominated every discussion. For better or worse, Aldridge’s name was fated to be inscribed in history next to the guards he played with.
2014-15 gave the Blazers a whole bunch of better, then a whole lot of worse. Aldridge and the Fantastic Five got out to a 30-8 start, looking serious about making the next step. Whether Dame drove and dished or Aldridge passed from his perch, they were all but unstoppable. Despite some midseason struggles, they held a 40-19 record going into the 60th game of the year against Dallas. That night, Matthews tore his Achilles and was lost for the season. The loss on both ends was enormous.
Aldridge was battling an injured thumb himself during this period. He stuck it out, refusing surgery that would end his season too. He played well enough, but his shooting and rebounding were both affected.
The Blazers would go on to lose 12 out of their next 20 after Matthews fell, including the last four of the season. They weren’t charging into the playoffs as much as skidding. Aldridge would score 21.8 per game in a five-game series loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, but he shot only 33% from the field.
Then came the moment of truth.
Aldridge’s contract was up that summer and his state of mind was in doubt. He had been offered an extension the year prior, but had refused to sign it. He wouldn’t make as much money being extended as he could re-upping in 2015. At the same time, he claimed he wanted to go down in history as the Greatest Blazer Ever. Then again, he had dodged the question of re-signing for most of the year, refusing to respond. The Blazers definitely wanted him back. Would he come?
As it turned out, the answer was no. In a stunning reversal of fortune for the franchise, their long-tenured All-Star accepted a contract from the San Antonio Spurs, choosing to fill the shoes of Tim Duncan rather than build alongside Lillard and company. His departure left a hole that no amount of damage control could cover.
Aldridge remains in San Antonio at the time of this writing. In the last five years he he’s made three more All-Star teams and played every year in the postseason. He and Kawhi Leonard led their team to the Western Conference Finals in his second season there.
At 34, Aldridge plays center instead of power forward. He’s a bit slower, but he still shoots 50% from the field while stroking it from pretty much everywhere.
Aldridge’s nine seasons in Portland left him third on the All-Time Franchise Scoring List behind Lillard and Clyde Drexler. He’s the franchise’s leading rebounder, third in offensive rebounds, fourth in blocked shots. He owns the sixth highest per game scoring average, higher even than Roy’s.
Because of the era he played in—characterized by injuries, restarts, and dashed expectations—and because of the high-profile guards he played with, it’s tempting to relegate Aldridge to lesser status in the Portland pantheon. That temptation is abetted by the way he left the franchise. Shaking off emotions and spotlight, though, there’s no doubt that Aldridge was the most versatile offensive power forward to wear the uniform. He was also among the most consistent players of his, or any, generation. He achieved as much playoffs success as anyone who didn’t play in 1977 or 1990-92. He may not have looked as exciting as some of Portland’s other All-Stars, but LaMarcus Aldridge scored and, ultimately, won.
For the talent, points, longevity, and winning, the forward that everyone wanted to shove into second (sometimes third) emerges from the fray as one of the franchise’s best: 10th overall on our list of Top 100 Trail Blazers players and influencers.
Check out the poise and touch in the videos below. This guy was money. And that turn-around jumper? When commentators are describing a 15-foot spinning jump shot over a defender as “Easy Money”, you are a really good scorer.
Share your thoughts and memories of LaMarcus Aldridge below and stick with us as we continue towards #1!