Which, for the record, has nothing to do with a lack of synergy from when they were teammates.
Once Aldridge decided to leave the Portland Trail Blazers for the San Antonio Spurs in free agency, it was assumed that Lillard’s meteoric rise, not just through the NBA, but through the franchise’s ranks, was partially to blame. Lillard, of course, denied this. So, too, did Aldridge.
That means it’s Lillard’s turn to talk about how everything between he and his former teammate was peachy keen. And that’s just what he did within an extensive—also fantastic—profile penned by SB Nation’s Paul Flannery on Lillard’s past, present, future and all things Blazers:
“Our relationship was fine,” Lillard says. “Me and LA never had an argument. People are searching for something that’s not there. When you have two All-Stars on the same team and one of them decides to leave, it’s automatically, ‘They didn’t get along.’ We had back-to-back 50-win seasons. We both made the All-Star team. We played through him and after that it was me and that was that. We played well together. We never had an issue.”
This should be the last we hear of Lillard and Aldridge’s relationship in Portland for a while. At least until the Blazers and Spurs square off during the regular season (November 11). Right?
If you think about it, like really think about it, though, the previous assertion that Aldridge and Lillard didn’t get along, or that they were borderline implosive, is kind of comical.
Blazers general manager Terry Stotts would tell Flannery that Portland “didn’t inherit the happiest player on Earth” in Aldridge. He wanted to win. So why would he actively alienate someone who could help him win? Someone who was helping him contend?
There are egos in NBA locker rooms. Shocking, I know. Even in good-to-great-to-unfathomably-awesome situations, emotions get in the way. Players clash. Things go wrong. The locker room dynamic, even if overblown, becomes less than ideal. (See: DeAndre Jordan almost leaving the Los Angeles Clippers over the summer.)
It seems reasonable to believe, then, that Aldridge at least mildly resented Lillard for inching in on his territory, for becoming the face of the franchise. And there’s a “I want to have my cake and eat it too” to that feeling. Aldridge couldn’t have both. He couldn’t be the only superstar in Portland and contend for championships. Not in today’s NBA.
But this presupposes that he was thinking along those lines, when it doesn’t appear he was. Not only was Aldridge’s usage rate actually higher than Lillard’s last season, per Basketball-Reference, but he proceeded to sign with the Spurs, the model for success by committee. If he was so bent on being the man, the only man, why not sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, knowing Kobe Bryant would be gone in one year’s time? Why not throw the Dallas Mavericks (pre-DeAndre interest) into the mix? Shoot, why not go to the star-less Philadelphia Sixers?
Perhaps I’m oversimplifying this matter, maybe even buying too much into what both players have said. Professional athletes, after all, are usually schooled in the art of telling you what they want you hear.
It’s just that, when Lillard and Aldridge tell us they weren’t at each other’s throats, as previously presumed, there’s cause to believe them—mostly because there’s virtually no reason not to.