This is what you’d call one of those “good problems.”
Like he does every year, Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge purchased an airplane ticket to his home city of Dallas during the All-Star break. After all, he was denied selection to the All-Star Game in each of his first five NBA seasons, so perhaps in an act of self-defense, he kept his hopes low and planned on heading back to Texas.
Then the word came from the NBA on Thursday afternoon: For the first time in his career, Aldridge had been selected as an All-Star team reserve.
Dallas will have to wait. This time, he’s Orlando-bound.
“I’m going to have to see if I can get that money back,” Aldridge said on a conference call. “I was planning on not making it. I didn’t think I was going to make it.”
Aldridge’s thoughts stood in stark contrast to the rumors circling around the league. The 26-year-old’s 23.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game are fifth and 10th in the NBA, respectively — which might be why Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks, Denver coach George Karl, and New Orleans’ coach Monty Williams had each said that Aldridge earned their vote before the results were announced.
Even so, Aldridge made sure to keep his optimism in check.
It was just a year ago that he was considered a strong candidate to earn the final spot on the Western Conference roster, only to watch Minnesota’s Kevin Love be selected in front of him. So when he got the nod this year, he made sure to pinch himself before patting himself on the back.
“It was kind of surreal,” said Aldridge, adding that he’s received a barrage of congratulations from teammates and friends, but is still waiting to hear from Brandon Roy. “It was a really good moment for me.”
At the end of last season, Aldridge was named to the third team All-NBA, which essentially acknowledged him as one of the league’s top 15 players. That said, he confessed that Thursday’s All-Star selection was an even greater individual honor given how that has been a goal throughout his career.
But despite years of aspiring to play in an exhibition with the NBA’s elite, Aldridge said the anticipation has not been dominating his mind over the past few weeks.
“I wasn’t really thinking about it,” said Aldridge, who confessed that this year’s selection helped ease the pain from last year’s snub. “I know a lot of people think I was because it was a really big topic in Portland. But it wasn’t any of my main focus. I was trying to think about what I needed to do to help the team.”
That’s probably something Blazers coach Nate McMillan was glad to hear. The Blazers have lost their past two games and currently find themselves out of the playoff picture. Nevertheless, McMillan was able to appreciate his best player being recognized.
“LaMarcus is a premier player in this league and I’m very happy to see him be recognized for his efforts as a player and a leader,” McMillan said. “He improves every season and this is validation for all the hard work he’s put in to become an All-Star.”
All-Star weekend begins Feb. 23 with the game itself taking place Feb. 26 at Orlando’s Amway Arena.
The starting five in the Western Conference, decided by fan balloting, are: Blake Griffin (L.A. Clippers), Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City), Andrew Bynum (L.A. Lakers), Kobe Bryant (L.A. Lakers) and Chris Paul (L.A. Clippers). The other West reserves from the coaches’ vote are: Kevin Love (Minnesota), Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas), Marc Gasol (Memphis), Steve Nash (Phoenix), Tony Parker (San Antonio) and Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City).