The lovesong of LaMarcus Aldridge

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It appears the LaMarcus Aldridge era has come to an end for the San Antonio Spurs. What do we make of an experiment that didn’t succeed and didn’t fail either?

The idea seemed like a good one, and for a moment or two, it worked. The San Antonio Spurs added an All-Star just shy of 30-years-old to a championship nucleus. At the time, there was no risk or danger — there was only three future Hall of Famers and Kawhi Leonard. There was only certainty and stability. There was only the promise of more championships, and LaMarcus Aldridge was sure to be part of all that. His signing would buttress the cathedral wall, allowing more light to spirit a space and age that might otherwise have slipped into dim draftiness.

The cathedral didn’t collapse. The forest rafters didn’t catch on fire and burn asunder. It would be hyperbole to describe the last five and a half seasons as a bust. But the business of gazing toward heaven settled and sagged in San Antonio. Rise over run became a difficult climb. Retreat and regret became a rather stalled status quo, and while the team made one Western Conference appearance in Aldridge’s stint, that kind of success was supposed to be the basement. Is it LaMarcus Aldridge’s fault? Not really. He averaged 19.5 points per game and 8.0 rebounds, but he never stretched his game and his talent never convinced Kawhi Leonard that the rest of the world did not exist. He and his team perished to the changing of the age.

As the entire league flew forward on the whims of the new physics, San Antonio lurched back into the past. The very signing of LaMarcus Aldridge was nostalgic. He only partnered for one year with Tim Duncan in the post before being paired with Pau Gasol, but the game was always about getting the old apostles back together. No matter what young players were brought in or signings could be made on the open market this was about playing in David Robinson’s image, only it wasn’t the Robinson who could leap tall buildings and snatched MVP trophies who was being imitated but the Robinson with a busted back who carried and stacked the stones for Duncan’s bank shots. In another time, this may have been beautiful and elegant, but in this day and age, such commitment to mimetic truths was a grueling practice. In an age of satellites and light-years, who insists on building in the Romanesque or the Gothic? To marvel at the past is one thing, but the Spurs were trying to live in it.

You could get vertigo staring at LaMarcus Aldridge. You could think he was someone else. You could mistake him for anyone. He could be a Hall of Famer. Or he could be some guy off the bench. You would never know. You would only sense the world moving around you. You would feel both inside and outside some great labyrinth. You would reach for the nearest piece of furniture to steady yourself. You would collapse on the couch to break your fall. Either way, you would be surprised not to find all the furniture in plaid upholstery and covered in plastic slipcovers. Your eyes would focus on the crucifix adorning the wall. Or your eyes might find the mounted television. You would be dizzy and lost. You would be checking the box score on your phone and wondering, always wondering:

How do you solve a problem like LaMarcus Aldridge?

The San Antonio Spurs will be better off without him, but they would have never been this steady if they hadn’t been able to lean on his midrange game and rebounding the moment they traded Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors on July 18, 2018. Aldridge played a few more seasons in Portland than he did in San Antonio, but his Portland years were lighter even with rumors swirling that Aldridge was jealous of Damian Lillard’s ascent. Aldridge was every bit as good in San Antonio as he was in Portland, but the job in both cities remains as far as he’s concerned largely unfinished.

You could conceive a glass of wine, but all you have are sentimental coffee mugs. In fact, you own $24 million worth of these sentimental coffee mugs. And they are all very good mugs. They rarely spill. And the handles fit the curve of your knuckle perfectly. You bought them all from the cathedral gift shops you visited or dreamed of visiting. It made more sense given the age in which you live to buy all those coffee mugs than to try and build Chartres. The caffeine even made more sense than wine. Henry Adams knew that. Henry Adams descended from a line of presidents, and although he never was one, you could notice a resemblance. You could ponder such things over a warm morning brew as you began a morning commute to somewhere. And maybe deep down you know that somewhere should have changed on July 19, 2018. If not then, then maybe now. Maybe now would be a good time to part ways with old habits and deep longings that no longer make sense in the modern world.

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