Blazers already good at rebounding from bad news

Spirits high as Jamal Crawford and Craig Smith meet the media, while LaMarcus Aldridge looks healthy

By Matt Calkins, Columbian Sports Reporter

Published:

Updated: December 16, 2011, 5:35 PM

 

PORTLAND — Proving it would require an impossible amount of research, but it is probably safe to say this: Never have consecutive Fridays produced such opposite moods within the Trail Blazers organization.

A week earlier, the team was absorbing the shock of Brandon Roy’s retirement, lamenting Greg Oden’s latest medical report, and fretting over LaMarcus Aldridge’s third heart procedure in five years.

But this Friday, the Blazers were welcoming recently signed free agents Jamal Crawford and Craig Smith to the team and watching Aldridge amble around the Rose Center.

Black Friday, meet Good Friday. Really Good Friday.

“That six hours ... Brandon is retiring, Greg has a setback, LaMarcus won’t be at practice, I almost fell out,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. “But we’ve been able to add these free agents to our roster. I’m excited to be with this group.”

Crawford and Smith sat beside McMillan and acting general manager Chad Buchanan in a formal press conference Friday morning. Both players agreed to a deal with the Blazers the day before.

Asked why he chose Portland as his landing spot, Crawford answered: “It just felt right. Every time I looked out the window or walked around the corner to clear my head, Portland kept popping in my head.”

Part of that probably has to do with the fact that Crawford grew up in Seattle. And part of that also has to do with the fact that Crawford, 31, has known McMillan for 15 years, and that Nate “probably knows my game better than anyone.”

But there was also an outpouring of pleas from players and fans for the 6-foot-6 shooting guard to don the pinwheel, something that Crawford said played a major role in his decision.

“I’ve played in front of some good crowds ... but this has been a different situation,” Crawford said. “The fans really campaigned. I couldn’t wait to say ‘Rip City!’ on my Twitter.”

Crawford averaged 14.2 points per game with Atlanta last year and won Sixth Man of the Year the season before. McMillan said that he plans on bringing Crawford off the bench and featuring the second unit’s offense around him.

“I like the depth that we have coming off the bench. We can bring in Crawford with Nicolas (Batum),” McMillan said. “This season more than any other season, depth is going to be very important with the number of games that we play.”

Smith, 28, is among those adding to Portland’s reserve tank. The five-year veteran averaged 5.4 points and 2.4 rebounds in 12.2 minutes per game with the Clippers last year, and at 6-7, 260 pounds, can take some of the load off of Aldridge at power forward.

Asked why he chose to sign with the Blazers, Smith said that “it was a great opportunity to be an enforcer off the bench and really help this ball club — especially relieving LaMarcus of some of those heavy duty minutes.”

Smith also brings with a nickname with him — “The Rhino” — a moniker Kevin McHale tagged him while Smith was taking part in a Minnesota Timberwolves training camp practice, “because I just kept blowing through everyone like a rhino.”

Heart-happy Aldridge

LaMarcus Aldridge’s nickname — “The L-Train,” is a little bit more well-documented in Portland, but so far this season, he and Smith have participated in the same number of Blazer practices: Zero.

Aldridge missed the opening day of training camp because he had a procedure to treat his Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, an abnormality that can cause a rapid heartbeat and dizziness.

But the 26-year-old has been cleared to practice without contact Saturday and hopes to play in the Blazers’ second and final preseason game on Wednesday. Friday, he addressed the media, where he revealed that, while this was the third time he has had the procedure, he wasn’t terribly frightened.

“I was kind of overly confident about it and that kind of threw the doctor off,” Aldridge said. “Everything went well, I’m fine. But yeah, it’s definitely a little scarier the third time.”

The first two procedures took place in 2007 during his rookie season. The irregular rhythm recently returned during the offseason, but Aldridge said that doctors found nothing harmful, and that if it returns, there is nothing to worry about. The procedure was not performed to repair anything, but rather to ensure the heart was not in danger. In other words, the incisions (doctors had to go through the groin) are what is keeping Aldridge sidelined for the moment.

That said, his figurative heart endured a recent blow. Having spent his entire career alongside Roy, Aldridge admittedly struggled with the news of his retirement.

“It’s still kind of surreal to me. I don’t really believe it ... it was a big hit to me,” Aldridge said. “It’s still kind of weird not to have him around. Just seeing his locker and knowing he won’t be there, that’s going to take some time to get used to.”

But Aldridge is happy with his new teammates, saying with confidence “we got better.”

He added that the strides he made since late April reflected those of the previous offseason, which preceded his breakout year.

“I feel like I’ve grown even more with my leadership,” Aldridge said. “During the games, I’m going to be more like a leader.”

Matt Calkins can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or email matt.calkins@columbian.com