"And your name is "You're wanting." You can't play the man's game, you can't close them? Go home and tell your wife your troubles. 'Cause only one thing counts in this world: Get them to sign on the line which is dotted."
— Alec Baldwin, motivational speaker, collector of metal genitals, All-Star voter.
As Mike Acker of Rip City Project pointed out on twitter today, LaMarcus Aldridge isn't doing very well in the voting. Lackluster was, I believe, the word being used. Even if it wasn't, it's an appropriate word. Lackluster is how I feel about LaMarcus Aldridge. It's how I've been feeling, since, like, ever.
"What the hell, you dumb hobbit," you might be saying. "How do you call these stats 'lackluster?'"
Those stats are pretty good. You're right. But stats ain't everything. I remember a player back in the '80s, A forward named Adrian Dantley. He got most of his notice playing for the Utah Jazz and the Detroit Pistons. Sweet looking jumper. Plain demeanor - Smooth, but ultimately bland. His numbers were often really impressive, and he inspired not a single emotion in anyone. Not once. In fact, the Pistons didn't start winning championships until they traded his ass to Dallas for Mark Aguirre. Suddenly, the Bad Boys are wresting rings out of David Stern's pockets with a hungry sneer, and Adrian Dantley is watching from Dallas, mildly shrugging at the hubbub and putting up his consistent, uninspiring numbers.
LaMarcus Aldridge reminds me of Adrian Dantley right about now.
His playstyle isn't similar to Dantley's at all - but the demeanor seems about right. Aloof. Sometimes inscrutable. Sometimes pouty. Yeah, he'll get his 20 and 8, and the Blazers sure as hell can use those numbers considering there are nights when the entirety of the bench, if allowed 80 minutes a game, wouldn't be able to produce at that level. But for all the talk that "The team is LA's'" I hear people saying, all the conventional wisdom that says "You gotta give it to the big man in the final seconds," I don't think I've ever once seen him take control of a game with confidence. Not in person, at least. I'm sure it's happened at some point. Somewhere. But I've never seen it. We're told that the team turns to him in those moments, but I don't see that, either. Especially not this year.
I see a team turning to Nicolas Batum to throw daggers from beyond the three, or to get back on defense and do his amazing Batman impersonation, swooping down out of the sky to knock the fucking Spalding brand off the ball before it starts its downward trajectory. I see a team clearing off to the sides and waiting for Damian Lillard to slow the rotation of the earth just long enough to spot the tiniest of seams, and thread them with either a pass, or his own body.
It's no wonder that Aldridge isn't doing so well in the All-Star balloting. If there were a category for "Most Impressive Blazer" he'd barely make the top three in that voting. Hell, Wesley Matthews seems to be playing with more energy, determination, and passion than Aldridge is doing currently.
Now put him in the same paint with Tim Duncan, a guy who puts up similar numbers, with a similar quietness, and watch the contrasts come into sharp focus. Duncan is a guy you go to in the final minutes. Duncan is a guy the team rallies around. Duncan can inspire. Duncan is inclusive. Duncan's teammates feel like they're working with him, not working beside him, or working around him. These are all things I'm unsure you can say about LaMarcus Aldridge, a player who doesn't have much of a reputation except that he's kind of prissy, and you have to be really careful around him because he might get mad people like you more than him.
One of the rules people often have a hard time wrapping their heads around is that you don't have to be friends with your co-workers. But this is twice now that Aldridge has been completely upstaged by a young guard who is wowing the shit out of the entire league, and the first time, it was understandable to see Aldridge withdraw, shrink, and pout every now and again, figuring himself out while the spotlight was pointed at Brandon Roy. But now? Now he's a grown-ass man, and instead of figuring out how to work in that shine, work with that shine, it seems more like he'd rather be a long-reaching shadow.
That's frustrating to watch. You wanna be the #1? You gotta play like it. You gotta lead like it. And so far, the only time he's been put in that position is when someone else vacated it, and it was passed down to him by default. And even then, he didn't do much with it. And to me, it feels like 2012 is presenting Aldridge with the choice all people eventually face at one point or another in their life; As he stands hip-deep in deja vu, watching Damian Lillard out Roy-ing Brandon Roy, he has to decide:
Lead, follow, or get the fuck out.