Last week, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski navigated the presumably terrifying dreamscape of Cleveland Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert to extract the nugget that the Cavs have been privately fantasizing about trading for LaMarcus Aldridge. Of course, a trade seems unlikely in reality because, as Wojnarowski put it, “Cleveland is far higher on its two top-five picks, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters, than the rest of the NBA”. Normally, this would be the point when I would drop a quick “O RLY?” owl in Woj’s comments section before scrolling back up to the speculation on Mrs. Battier’s feelings about Anchorage and the emotional scars between Gilbert and his rehired coach, Mike Brown. But I have been hoping for an escape from the LaMarcus Aldridge experience ever since Argentine forward and rugged gaucho Luis Scola played a superior payada in the first round of the 2009 playoffs. An inefficient wing scorer, a younger, worse version of Aldridge, and a possible top-3 draft pick (Otto Porter?), might represent my only chance at freedom from a nightmarish future filled only with the relentless onslaught of elbow jumpers.
The ranks of LaMarcus detractors have thinned with each passing year. Our criticisms continue to become obsolete as the former Texas Longhorn improves his game each season. We used to be able to call him raw until he developed and refined his offensive skills. We used to be able to call him soft until his midrange game became so devastatingly consistent that it may supercede his mediocre rebounding rate and aversion to interior scoring – I’ll leave that verdict to the mathematicians with advanced degrees and big chalkboards. Even one of our favorite weapons of criticism, Aldridge’s interior defense, was revealed to be actually very good in Michigan State University assistant geography professor Kirk Goldsberry’s research paper, The Dwight Effect: A New Ensemble of Defense Analytics for the NBA. Et tu, Goldsberry?
What few of us that remain are now holed up deep in Forest Park, subsisting on rainwater and errant joggers, clinging to what few arguments remain. The argument of cost value of Aldridge compared to the availability of cheaper but effective power forward options (I see you Hickson!) is a fairly compelling one, but like my main man Sir William of Ockham says, the simplest solution is best (It’s safe to assume that in the Ockham City League, Sir William wasn’t throwing a lot of 360 windmills in transition). At the most simple level, I watch basketball because I enjoy it as entertainment. Regular statistics, advanced metrics, research papers presented at the Sloan Conference, and the ghost players employed by the Toronto Raptors and their SportsVU cameras all help me to understand what is happening on that 94-foot stretch of finished maple, but it doesn’t significantly add to my enjoyment. Rather, my enjoyment is defined almost entirely by the level of style and creativity displayed by a team on the pursuit to that golden Larry O’Brien Trophy, and the contributions of the players as characters in the overall drama of the Association.
I don’t enjoy LaMarcus Aldridge because his game is bland like dry white toast with a side of packing peanuts. Has anyone ever looked up an Aldridge highlight on YouTube? Has a drop of Ninkasi ever been spilled on the floor of the Cheerful Tortoise in excitement over Aldridge’s perfect spacing on the pick-and-pop? Watching Aldridge can 18-footers over and over is like watching someone play Pop-A-Shot or like the trick shot toddler on YouTube who borrowed Rasheed Wallace’s stroke from ’02. Speaking of Sheed, he was another reluctant power forward who did more damage with his jumper than on the block, but at least he had the good sense to spice it up by coining rebellious catchphrases, setting technical foul records, rocking patent leather Air Force I hi-tops, stepping to refs on the loading dock postgame, and being spotted at the Washington Square location of Barnes & Noble in a Cat in the Hat hat (Sheed needed that Chicken Soup for the Misunderstood Forward Soul). Apart from an appearance with Penny Marshall on Portlandia – which may turn out to be our Bhagavad-Gita when it’s all said and done – I’m not sure if Aldridge even exists outside of the left elbow, at least in that weird philosophical sense of existence. Of course, Tim Duncan made a career out of being an unemotional robot, but he has that Garry Kasparov vs. Deep Blue kind of style, a perfect machine designed to counter any type of defense. LaMarcus, meanwhile, is a toaster.
The only possibility that could change my feeling towards LaMarcus is if his blandness has been carefully and knowingly cultivated, like some sort of Andy Kaufman performance art or how I hope that Inspectah Deck intended his solo work. Inside though, I fear that a purpose behind Aldridge’s act would indicate a larger evil genius bent on conquest. I worry his entire career might be part of a great campaign to rid professional basketball of all joy and excitement, in the name of consistency and production, while brainwashing converts in the process. Even the stubborn likes of Bill Simmons and Dwight Jaynes seem to have already fallen under his spell. It’s only a matter of time until Zach Lowe pens a 1,000 word analysis of how Aldridge and his stretch-4 apostles open up movement in NBA offenses. The end is near, my friends. In 20 years, when our city is a wasteland of electro-zydeco indie bands riding around on penny-farthing bicycles and Aldridge is still silently filling it up from 18 feet, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Not even Dion Waiters can save us then.