LaMarcus Aldridge knew this was a big-picture conversation, meaning there would be no softball questions thrown his way about how the Tuesday night matchup against the Houston Rockets is a big one in light of his recent prediction that his Portland Trail Blazers are a playoff team. He's the two-time All-Star who reportedly wanted out of this sleepy little city during the summer, and now he's the veteran leader of this team that is promising enough that he talks about it with a pleasant grin fixed on his face. So – in the name of knowing whether he's the next star who plans to force his way to a larger market – is he happy or not? "I'm happy here right now," Aldridge told USA TODAY Sports while sitting on a bench inside the team's practice facility. "I feel like we have a team that can win, that can make noise, and I feel like if we buy in then anything is possible. So I'm happy, and it's still my team and I'm playing well. "I feel like the team has jelled around me. I feel like coach (Terry Stotts) has trusted me more this year to where I'm getting different opportunities that I didn't get last year, so I think everything is going great right now." The cynics in the crowd will focus on the fact that Aldridge said 'right now' twice as if it was a subconscious qualifier of sorts, and that's understandable given how the NBA culture programs us to assume young stars will long for the grass that isn't always greener. But that much notwithstanding, this much is clear: he's a whole lot happier now than he was at the end of last season. In the here and now, Aldridge – who has two seasons and a combined $30 million left on his deal – said there is no desire to be traded or a request of any sort that general manager Neil Olshey move him to a better situation if that opportunity presents itself. And while rival front-office executives will certainly continue monitoring his situation, the league-wide belief is that he's going nowhere unless a proposal includes, among other things, an All-Star player in return. When asked what the current message to management is, Aldridge said, "It's not 'If there's a better deal, then get me out of (Portland) or take that. It's 'We're here. Let's win, and let's try to have the best season that we can.'" The vast improvement in Aldridge's mood is not hard to understand. After seeing the Blazers falter so badly at the finish last season (they lost 13 consecutive games after starting 33-36), he wanted a veteran center to play alongside him rather than a fellow forward (6-foot-nine JJ Hickson started 80 games for Portland last season). Now, after the latest handy-work of the second-year Blazers general manager who did wonders turning the Clippers into contenders before coming to Portland, Aldridge shares the floor with sixth-year pro Robin Lopez (acquired from New Orleans in a three-team trade on July 4) and a British back-up big man in Joel Freeland who has impressed in the early going and beat second-year center Meyers Leonard for his role (Freeland was drafted 30th by the Blazers in 2006 but played internationally until returning last season). After being such a big part of the Blazers teams that made the playoffs from 2009 to 2011, Aldridge quickly grew tired of the rebuilding route and was yearning for more of a veteran presence on the roster. On cue, Olshey – who was part of the team's makeover that included the addition of Stotts two summers ago – brought in the likes of Dorell Wright, Earl Watson and Mo Williams as free agents to help balance the youth movement headed by reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard. With every move, Aldridge's frustrations were allayed a little more. "The team that we have now is a good balance of old and young, a good balance of hungry and – not satisfied – but hungry and older," said Aldridge, who is averaging 25.7 points and 6.7 rebounds per game during the Blazers' 2-1 start that included wins vs. Denver and San Antonio after an opening-night loss to Phoenix. "By 'hungry' I mean (players like) T-Rob (Thomas Robinson), who was a (No. 5) pick and he's trying to prove that he should be here (Robinson was traded to Portland from Houston on July 1). "You've got (2012 second-round pick) Will Barton, who feels like he should be here. So these guys are really hungry. You have Joel Freeland, who was drafted in my draft and got sent overseas for five or six years, and he's here now and hungry trying to prove that he should be here. I think having that balance of these (players) who want to go out and kill it every night and prove some things has been good for me."
LaMarcus Aldridge says he's happy now with Blazers
USA Today | Nov 6