SAN ANTONIO - Five-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge smiled sheepishly on Tuesday when a reporter asked him if anything new had happened in his life.
“Same old, man,” Aldridge said, chuckling. “Just going to work and just going home, basically.”
The truth is, Aldridge had good reason to be in an upbeat mood after signing a three-year, $72.3 million contract extension with the San Antonio Spurs on Monday. The extension will keep Aldridge under contract with the Spurs through the 2020-21 season.
“I’m happy to be here,” Aldridge said after Tuesday’s workout. “It’s worked out for both sides. I feel like this preseason has been great for myself, trying to find my rhythm and be myself. I feel like the offense has had some tweaks where I’m feeling more comfortable and I feel like I’m helping the team more.”
Before talking with the media, Aldridge worked on his 3-point shot and free throws after practice. NBA icons Tim Duncan and David Robinson rebounded for him and passed the ball back to him.
“Growing up, if you told me I would have Tim Duncan and David Robinson rebounding for me, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Aldridge said. “So, that was kind of cool today.”
Aldridge will start his third season in San Antonio and 12th in the NBA when the Spurs host the Minnesota Timberwolves at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the AT&T Center. The game will be the first of nine televised this season on KENS 5, the official station of the Spurs. Wednesday’s pregame show will air on KENS 5 at 8 p.m.
Aldridge, who turned 32 in July, played nine seasons with Portland before signing with the Spurs in the summer of 2015. Although he made the All-Star team in his first season with San Antonio, Aldridge grew increasingly frustrated as he struggled to fit into the team’s offense.
It appeared that Aldridge’s days with the Spurs were numbered last summer when reports surfaced that the team was seeking a trade for him. But when no deal came together, Aldridge had a meeting with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to clear the air.
“This place is great,” Aldridge said. “It’s a great organization. They do things the right way. I feel like the talks this summer were very constructive, and it was kind of needed, having a heart-to-heart where you just say how you feel. I feel like Pop’s been great about the things that I’ve said that are kind of needed or wanted. So far, it’s been great.”
Popovich was not available for comment Wednesday.
Aldridge signed a four-year, $84 million contract with the Spurs when he left Portland, and could have opted out of the deal after the 2017-18 season.
Does Aldridge feel at ease now that he doesn’t have to worry about having to make a decision on his future next summer?
“I wasn’t really worried about it because I feel like if you go do your job, and you go in and go be myself, I’ll be OK,” he said. “Of course, it’s nice to have that out of the way for myself and the organization, but I wasn’t really worried about it. But I am happy to have it behind me.”
Aldridge said that the extension dispels any lingering thoughts that he isn’t happy with the Spurs and vice versa.
“I mean, it has to because signing that means both sides wanted it,” he said. “It’s not one-sided. I’m happy to sign it. I feel like they’re happy to have me to sign it, so I feel like everything’s good. I’m happy to have it behind me because it puts everything that happened this summer out of the door. I feel like I’m going to be better this year and I’m looking forward to it.”
Aldridge said he couldn’t remember when the discussions on a contract extension started.
“It kind of just came out of the blue, and just kept going.” Aldridge said. “I feel like once it started, both sides were very interested and it got done.”
Did Aldridge study next season’s landscape and consider what would be better for him financially, staying with the Spurs or testing the free-agent market?
“No, I didn’t do that,” he said. “I just went off of how I feel. I feel like Pop’s been great. I feel like this preseason has made me feel so much more comfortable out there and I’ve been myself, and I feel like I’m going to help us win. Going off how I felt and just in the moment, I did it.”
Playing with a little more bounce in his step and looking more comfortable on offense, Aldridge was steady throughout the preseason. He averaged a team-leading 18 points on 57.4 shooting in five preseason games, along with 5.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists.
With Kawhi Leonard sidelined as he rehabs a quadriceps injury, the Spurs will rely on Aldridge to continue carrying the offense. Aldridge has left no doubt that he’s ready to contribute wherever the team needs him. Slowed by a sore knee at times last season, Aldridge is raring to go and make a fresh start.
“Being healthy is a big part of it,” he said. “Having a good offseason to get some things right, and I think just having that talk with the staff, with Pop, and then him being so good about listening to me and tweaking things [have made a difference].”
Aldridge chuckled when he recounted how he went about approaching Pop about his concerns.
“He’s Pop, so you’ve got to go at it a certain way, as we all know,” Aldridge said. “He’s a different guy, but he’s very open to listening. He’s a great guy to talk to, so you can’t just go at it and be too direct.
“I was kind of open about how I felt. I did feel better after, and I felt his response after was even better. He was like, ‘You’re right.’ And at that moment, they started to talk to me about things I like to do, and it’s been great.”
Aldridge averaged 17.3 points, 7.3 rebounds last season. His scoring average was the lowest since his rookie year. Aldridge has averaged 19.1 points and 8.3 rebounds in his 11 NBA seasons.
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