Feels like home in San Antonio to LaMarcus Aldridge
The Spurs were not going to dazzle Aldridge with glitz and glamour and San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich certainly wasn't going to sweet talk the 6-foot-11 forward, even if he was one of the biggest prizes in free agency. No, the Spurs showed Aldridge he could be comfortable in the selfless culture the five-time NBA champions have created under Popovich.
The simplicity worked.
Aldridge opted to leave the Portland Trail Blazers, his home for the first nine years of his career, and sign a four-year contract worth $84.1 million with the Spurs.
''I'm excited to be here,'' Aldridge said Friday morning in his introductory press conference. ''I've always felt like this was home.''
A Dallas native who went to Texas up the road in Austin, Aldridge has always felt that way about San Antonio, but his comfort extends beyond locale. He is already comfortable enough to call Tim Duncan old and joke about Popovich's perceived lack of a bedside manner.
''It's not like we made something up or came up with a new magic pill, it's being who we are,'' Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said of the team's meetings last week with Aldridge. ''It's Pop and the relationships with all of our players and them feeling empowered to express that. We can't be something we're not.''
Aldridge has averaged 19.4 points and 8.4 rebounds over his career, including 23.4 points and 10.2 rebounds last season for Portland.
The 30-year-old joins a franchise that has had Duncan in the paint for 18 seasons and Hall of Famer David Robinson for eight years prior to that.
''I think it's an honor to even be in this organization,'' Aldridge said. ''They have first-class players all the way, so to be in that caliber feels good. But I'm not trying to be David Robinson (or trying to) be Tim Duncan. Those guys are rare. They only come around once every 20 years.''
The Spurs are hoping Aldridge can have a similar career, bridging the gap between a glorious past and what they hope is a bright future with Aldridge and 2014 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.
Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are also returning next season along with key role players Danny Green, Boris Diaw and Patty Mills. Free-agent forward David West has also agreed to join the Spurs, although no official announcement has been made.
As happy as he is about all those offseason moves, Aldridge is truly excited about playing with Duncan, a player he idolized as a youth.
''It's going to be fun for me,'' Aldridge said. ''Everything about Tim is first class. Yearly he works hard. He tries to get better every year even though he's done all that is imaginable as far as winning championships and playing at a high level - even though he is so old. To play with him is going to be awesome to try and learn a few things from him and try to get better while I'm with him and try to make his life easier and vice versa.''
Just as Duncan got the opportunity to play alongside Robinson, Aldridge now has the chance to learn from a future Hall of Famer. But who will play center? Both Duncan and Aldridge have been listed at power forward for their entire careers.
''We're not worried about that,'' Buford said. ''Tim's probably played center for the last five years at different times on the floor. At times we've announced DeJuan Blair, Matt Bonner and Speedy Claxton, probably, as a center in the starting lineup. Our system will handle it and I have enough confidence that Pop will figure out where that goes.''
Aldridge doesn't have any concerns about that, either.
''As far as guarding bigger guys, I feel like we're both very competitive,'' Aldridge said. ''I feel like I've done it, he's done t. I feel like between doing it many times, it shouldn't be an issue.''
Aldridge was likely reassured the Spurs would make it work during a one-on-one meeting with Popovich last week. How would Aldridge describe his talk with San Antonio's longtime coach, known for his one-word and usually dismissive courtside interviews with reporters?
''You've seen the TNT interviews (with Popovich), right?'' Aldridge said, smiling. ''It was like that, but a little bit nicer. Pop isn't going to tell you sweet stories or try to make up things. He is a very honest person.''
Aldridge has worn No. 12 his entire pro career, but that number was retired by the Spurs in 2012 in honor of Bruce Bowen. The Spurs reached out to the former small forward, who agreed to let Aldridge wear No. 12.
''He gave his blessing,'' Aldridge said. ''I'm very thankful for it because I was having a headache. I wasn't sleeping at night trying to pick my new number. I was going through numbers and it just wasn't fitting right. I really was not sleeping, so for him to do that just shows how great of a person he is.''
Bowen's allowance only cemented to Aldridge that he had made the right decision.
''The organization is first class from R.C. to every player,'' Aldridge said. ''They have a winning tradition. They have always been in the mix whether they have big names or not. And just being close to my family, I think this is a great opportunity to win and to be at home.''