LaMarcus Aldridge signing with the San Antonio Spurs seemed like a no-brainer decision, but the longtime Portland Trail Blazer had some doubts about his fit in San Antonio before deciding to join the Spurs on a four-year max deal. While several factors wound up drawing Aldridge to San Antonio, it was Ime Udoka, Aldridge’s former teammate and current Spurs assistant, who helped seal the deal, according to Sam Amick of USA TODAY Sports.
Aldridge and Udoka briefly played together at the beginning of Aldridge’s career in Portland, and the two kept in touch throughout the years. Udoka joined Gregg Popovich’s staff in 2012, and the 38-year-old made the final pitch to Aldridge after the meeting process was over…on a flight from Los Angeles to Dallas.
Aldridge initially invited Udoka on the flight because he thought the assistant was staying in San Antonio for the summer. But Udoka lives in Los Angeles at the moment, and he insisted on going on the flight just to talk and answer any final questions Aldridge may have:
“So we rode – and I had my kids with me and my mom – so they sat in the front of the plane and him and I went to the back of the plane and talked the whole flight. It was just conversation, about the system, about me. It wasn’t really a lot of questions. It was just him telling me how I’m going to fit in. Everybody was making this big fuss about how I’m not going to be able to take shots anymore, or be the scorer that I am, and he was just telling me, ‘We need a guy to score down there. Tim (Duncan) is older, and we need a guy to command a double team down there.’ So I was like, ‘Maybe I’m not a Spur, because I’ve been averaging 23 (points per game) for the last three to four years, and maybe I don’t fit into y’all’s system of let’s all average 17 (points per game).’ And he was like, ‘No, we’re not trying to change who you are and make you average 16 or 17. We want you to be you, because you’re going to help us be better and vice versa.’ He kind of reaffirmed that they didn’t want to change me, and that who I am is ok.”
Aldridge ultimately chose the Spurs over the Phoenix Suns, and he’s not looking back. At the recent Team USA minicamp in Las Vegas, Aldridge took part in three Spurs-only sessions along with Udoka and Kawhi Leonard in order to help him learn the Spurs’ system. If all things work out, San Antonio is going to be one scary beast.