Every NBA team, good, bad or mediocre, needs to eat up a shit-ton of possessions.
You have your shooters. You have your big-ass roll man, thundering toward the basket. You love it when these fellas are tossin’ them up there, but the other team knows that’s what you want and it will be the first thing they’re looking to shut down, possession after possession.
And so, by the very nature of opposition, you’re going to need a big dog—an abnormally skilled player who brings his natural gifts to bear. If the team is a restaurant, your big dog is the chef de cuisine, the most skilled guy in the house, executing dishes that shouldn’t work with refined expertise.
Shooters, ball handling guards, defensive wings, hefty centers, these are the bricks of the NBA wall. But the big dogs are the mortar, the thing that keep a tea from being a pile of bricks.
In the first half of the 2010s, LaMarcus Aldridge was the Portland Trail Blazers’ big dog. He was impossibly skilled, big with a sweet shooting touch and an unblockable, even kind of beautiful post-up turnaround jumper. Some of his teams were good on his account: The 2011 squad that came out of nowhere to make the playoffs when Brandon Roy was transitioning into the final perma-injured phase of his career; the two conference semi-final appearances with Damian Lillard. Respectable showings from good teams, built around a great player. The point and purpose of being an NBA team is to compete, and Aldridge’s squads always competed.
Could he have played center more? Sure. Should he have refined his three-point shot earlier? Maybe, but he was born just a few years too early for that to be priority No. 1 for a skilled power forward. Did he leave in free agency? Yes, but that’s his right, and, honestly, the Blazers dodged a bullet on the back half of his contract.
Aldridge announced his retirement last week. He is going out a little early, on account of a heart condition that has hovered over his career, threatening to bring it to a grinding stop at some point or another. He is the Blazers’ fourth all-time minutes played leader, third in points scored, second in field-goals made, and the squad’s all-time rebounding leader. Great player, great career, great Blazer.
There is a bleak side to all of this, of course. Aldridge was drafted with Brandon Roy, a brilliant scoring guard, and was drafted one year before the team lucked out and drafted Greg Oden in 2007. Roy-Aldridge-Oden was a dynastic dream. It was all so clear: Aldridge and Roy scoring their faces off, Andre Miller setting everything up at the point, Wes Matthews and Nic Batum shooting and scoring off the bench, Oden providing a vice grip on the defensive end.
But fate told this dream to eat shit. Roy and Oden were simply not built to be professional athletes for very long, and their careers ended way before a rational, compassionate God would have ordained they would.
Life is disappointing. But we keep living. Aldridge was the life led after the apocalypse, and honestly, that life was pretty great anyway. Live strong on the other side, big dog.