The Fight Against Stagnation

Alarm clock.

Shut up, alarm clock.

Alarm clock again.

Sigh.

Bathroom, brush teeth, shave, in some order. Well, sometimes shave.

2 hour commute. Work. Lunch. Work. Somewhere within that sequence, fall asleep twice. Somewhere within those twice, drink coffee. Somewhere within that coffee, think– “this coffee would taste much better if I were awake enough to get the coffee-to-sugar-to-water-to-milk ratio right instead of just throwing the four of them into a cup and hoping for best. What am I, coffee’s Don Nelson?”

2 hour commute back. Dinner. Enjoy family’s presence at dinner. Unless they’re feeling noisy. They always feel noisy.

Some kind of screen. Maybe a book, if the attention span allows it. Postpone sleep for the mind-numbing killing of brain cells. Brain cells dead, postponing over. Sleep.

Rinse, lather, repeat.

It doesn’t sound like much. But it’s the way I run my life. And, give or take some details – maybe you work closer to home, or are able to discipline yourself into reading more often, or have a quiet family, or just have a full-time beard – that’s probably how you live too.

Should I find it sad that my life is so easy to describe in a 130 word fashion that intentionally includes very little adjectives and a disproportionally long shot at Don Nelson? No. For between those lines there is so much to enjoy. Incredible depths of detail, like just how fun it is to eat dinner with my family when they aren’t noisy, or just how good my work environment is when I don’t fall asleep, or just how fascinating those books and/or mind numbing screens are. And I haven’t even mentioned basketball.

No, the oddly placed introduction you just slugged through has nothing to do with sad or happy. Words such as those don’t belong there. It’s void of emotion, opinion or interpretation in either which way. It’s merely a template, the backbone of my every day life, upon which other, more significant pieces can be placed.

And in that is great virtue. Structure is a necessity for any fully functioning organism or society, a life saver whenever on faces adversity. We like to tell ourselves that when the going gets tough the tough get going, but once we get past the cliché, we see that when the going gets tough, the tough manage to stay afloat. It’s why clutch shooting numbers are so vastly inferior to their equivalents during any other portion of the game. It’s why usually, even the best players perform just up to their regular standards during the playoffs, with only a select few actually upping their production for those crucial weeks of spring.

The problem, though, is when life refuses to assist in filling that frame with other pieces. Life shows very little regard to what we need at a given time, sometimes forcing us to choose between making lemonade out of some papaya or just chillaxing with a papaya. Even worse, life may not throw us pieces at all, giving us the full freedom we seemingly desire, the power to define the narrative that twists around our eventless spine. For when we are given the power to act, we are also given the power to do nothing. To sink into the comfort of our routine, go through the motions, and live out a dull shade of gray.

This is where our comfort with structure goes one step too far, where that sense of security prevents us from fulfilling our full potential. And once that goes on for too long, we may find ourselves incapable of rediscovering the abilities we once had, staring at those once available heights through a back mirror without the lift we once had. It is at this point that we cry and yell for help, that we demand to leave our self-imposed prison. But inertia is a wily foe, and of those who have challenged it, only a select few have managed to change their fortunes. Such is a routine, both a buoy and an anvil tied to ones foot.

For LaMarcus Aldridge, routine had been an anvil, fortunes looking very different as late as this November. And just as yet another teammate went down, just as opponents gained the ability to focus solely on LMA, when we expected his routine to become a buoy – it disappeared. For the better.

The first 4 years of the LaMarcus Aldridge in the NBA experience were solid, if unspectacular. And what two words, other than “LaMarcus” and “Aldridge”, are better for describing the 2006-2010 version of LaMarcus Aldridge?

Picked 2nd in the 2006 draft, sandwiched between two inferior players at the same position and one outright bust, Aldridge was a steal. Then again, the best players in the draft were all picked behind him. Brandon Roy went 6th, depriving Aldridge even of “best Blazer” status; Rudy Gay went 8th, shared LMA’s frustrating stagnation, and broke through in separate circumstances this year; and Rajon Rondo, picked 21st overall, has benefited from a championship in his 2nd season and far more exposure, thus placing him far ahead of the curve, however unfairly.

And so, off went Aldridge. Always impressive, never in the mind blowing sense of the word. The designated 3rdstring in the Oden-Roy dynasty. Stuck behind too many strong Western forwards for all-star recognition, and too many exciting youngsters in general. And while 18 and 8 in one’s second season is far from feeble, especially for your slow-to-develop big men, every season that passes without that statline jumping upwards is fair game as far as disappointment labels.

With the tip off of the 2010-2011 season, nothing seemed different. As December came along, Aldridge was firmly entrenched in his matter-of-factly averages of 18.3 and 8.3, to go with a field goal percentage inferior to that of years past, and this in more minutes than ever before. Same old, same old.

Until Oden was, once again, out for the year. And then the depths of Roy’s cartilage-less knees were revealed. And all of a sudden, LMA was fresh of a 5 year, 65 million extension, the best player on his team, and still very solid yet unspectacular. A franchise with a tantalizing future was suddenly stuck with a Roy-ed out cap and a new franchise guy who didn’t seem to be cut out for such a huge burden.

When finally, it happened. “Oh boy, I like that Aldridge kid, he might be a star someday” became “Holy crap, did you SEE LaMarcus Aldridge?”. No more settling for mid-range jumpers just because his length makes him unblockable, but using that unblockability to get closer to the basket and make shot after shot. A well refined post game, seasoned with perfect execution on alley-oop after alley-oop. Multiple 40 point games. A well deserved all-star campaign ending in a felonious all-star snub. A franchise that may not be going as far as it once hoped, but at least has it’s building block again.

There are many kinds of  breakthroughs in the NBA. Many of them follow the path of natural ascension. Kevin Durant last year, or Derrick Rose this year – not a superstar coming out of nowhere, but prospects flying upwards on an unbelievably steep learning curve. Some break through because they finally got their chance. Kevin Love is posting some of the best rebounding numbers ever we’ve seen in this modern era because Kurt Rambis finally stopped gleefully gluing him to the bench for your Anthony Tollivers. Sometimes a former headcase will just “get it”, posting up similar stats with a magnified effect on his team, like Zach Randolph or Josh Smith. And sometimes, if you’re extra patient, you get a Blake Griffin, a player who is just something we’ve never seen before from the get-go, who captivates our hearts and our minds.

But so rare is the player who seemingly plateaus, only to re-establish his once flatlined career arc. That Aldridge’s screeching halt came so early in his career makes no difference. This is a player who’s immense potential somehow simmered away into our subconsciousness as he has settled into a well define role within basketball folklore, only to burst out in glorious fashion right when it was needed the most.

LaMarcus Aldridge probably won’t win Most Improved Player this year. I’m not even willing to go as far as saying he deserves it. There are too many deserving candidates, and despite his progress, I find it hard to say that LMA has improved the “most”. But it’s the nature of his improvement – the situation from which he has risen, how very rare it is to see players slowly lose their best-case-scenario tags only to regain them –  that makes his improvement stick with me the most. Given how ridiculous award voting has become in the 24/7 media world, perhaps that’s all that matters.

Noam Schiller

Noam Schiller lives in Jerusalem, where he sifts through League Pass Broadband delay and insomnia in a misguided effort to watch as much basketball as possible. He usually fails miserably, but is entertained nonetheless. He prefers passing big men to rebounding guards but sees no reason why he should have to compromise on any of them.