The duo of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard had so much potential.
But Aldridge left as a free agent to the San Antonio Spurs.
Aldridge was in the prime of his career, making All-Star appearances and being named to All-NBA, while Lillard quickly went from prospect to rising star.
Lillard was the help Aldridge never really had because of injuries to Brandon Roy and Greg Oden.
Even with a young and durable star, an issue emerged. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what it was, but it's possible that Aldridge didn't feel the locker room was big enough for the both of them.
With Aldridge now retired, he wishes he had a better relationship with Lillard.
“The only thing I look back on is I wish I would have worked at it better to have a relationship with Dame (Lillard),” said Aldridge, via Shams Charania. “I feel like we both had our circles talking to us. Maybe that helped stifle our relationship, but we definitely have gotten a better relationship since then. But I think just trying to get a better relationship with him. It’s just tough because people see the career I had, but people don’t realize how I got there.”
In their last two seasons together, the team won at least 50 games, but even that success wasn’t enough to keep Aldridge. During the free agency of 2015, he signed with the San Antonio Spurs, and in the words of Lillard, he and Aldridge became a “what could have been.”
“I think everybody was expecting him to return and he ended up leaving and it was kind of like, people felt some kind of what about it,” Lillard added.
The following season, CJ McCollum became a starter and won Most Improved Player, and Lillard averaged a then-career-high of 25.1 points.
“With my development, CJ [McCollum’s] development, who knows what that could’ve turned into.”
Maybe Aldridge left a season too early.
Aldridge’s first season with the Spurs saw the team win a franchise-record 67 games followed by 61 the following season and a Western Conference Finals appearance.
Lillard’s “what could have been” is a summary of the Blazers’ fortune and is a connector between Aldridge’s eras with the franchise of trios that never were.
Following the announcement of Aldridge's retirement, Lillard immediately called for the Blazers to retire his No. 12 jersey. Which shouldn't be a problem. He’s third in points, first in rebounds, and fifth in games.
“But there’s no denying what type of career he had in Portland and what he meant to this city, I think that’s the proper respect, is to retire his jersey because of who he was and what he did for this organization.”