LaMarcus Aldridge couldn’t help but think, “What if?”
What if he were on the floor last June? What if he didn’t have to step away from the Nets due to heart issues last April? It was agonizing for him to watch that Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Bucks.
“I definitely felt I could have helped in some type of way, whether it was trying to play defense or being down low, trying to get some shots to the rim,” Aldridge recalled Thursday. “It was hard to watch because they were so close and the guys just needed one more player with all the injuries. I definitely could have tried to help.”
Instead, he was at home, only able to watch the Nets fall short in seven grueling games after injuries to Kyrie Irving and James Harden made them a shell of the team that was expected to at least reach the NBA Finals. Now, after getting medically cleared, the 6-foot-11 Aldridge is back with the Nets, hoping to erase those painful memories of last June.
“It’s definitely motivation, but this team is a little different as far as it’s kind of stacked.” he said.
And Aldridge wasn’t even talking about the Nets’ explosive ability on the perimeter, where Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving (when he’s eligible to play) form an electric scoring trio. He was referring to the paint, and the depth they now have inside, a weakness a year ago.
There is Aldridge, a seven-time All-Star. There is Blake Griffin, who thrived after joining the Nets last March. And there is yet another former All-Star, Paul Millsap, along with young big man Nic Claxton. The Nets won’t get pushed around inside too often, if at all.
“That shouldn’t be an issue this year,” Adridge said.
Aldridge, 36, is excited about the possibilities, after he was only able to play five games with the Nets before his heart condition acted up. He got through his first game on Sunday since returning fine, scoring six points and adding four rebounds in 14 minutes against the Lakers. There was some rust, and there was also appreciation for what he now has.
“Whenever you have to step away or you’re forced away from the game you definitely enjoy those moments more,” he said. “Even though it was preseason, I tried to take it in and enjoy it.”