Blazer Banter

No locker room for old men

Before the game, the Portland Trail Blazers’ locker room looked festive thanks to the colorful balloons decorating Meyers Leonard’s stall. The rookie big man celebrated his 21st birthday on Wednesday – finally joining grown man status but still the youngest buck in the a locker room full of young bucks.

Case in point, LaMarcus Aldridge feels like a geezer around these kids.

The sting from the Denver loss was wearing off when Aldridge strolled out of the shower and into a nearly-empty locker room. Will Barton, J.J. Hickson, Eric Maynor and Elliot Williams were still meandering about when Aldridge turned to the flat screen to catch some highlights of Stephen Curry’s big night for the Golden State Warriors. Curry dropped 54 for a career-high, but the Warriors lost to the New York Knicks. Aldridge was simply observing about how the L takes the gloss off a night like that. Then he joked that some young players (not referring to Curry at all) still would’ve loved those stats in spite of the loss.

“But I’m just different,” Aldridge said.

I told him, “No, you’re old school” then Aldridge started musing about all the youth in this room. Apparently, Aldridge dropped a “Jerry Maguire” reference earlier in the day that fell flat at the feet of his teammates. Aldridge was imitating this famous scene and according to him, neither Barton nor Hickson (“90s babies,” as Aldridge referred to them) knew where it came from.

“I said, ‘Show me the money!’” Aldridge said. “They looked at me like I was stupid.”

Funny anecdote but a telling one when you look at why the Blazers, 26-31, are exactly where you would expect them to be after such a promising start.

Guys, these guys are young. And not just young, but barely able to order a drink young. (See: Leonard). Every so often, they show their youth: 19 turnovers on Wednesday night, still incapable of sustaining the type of defensive effort that would win games (Nuggets scored 22 points off the break).

Aldridge, only 27, is the third oldest Blazer on the roster behind 31-year-old Jared Jeffries and 29-year-old Sasha Pavlovic. And those two veterans are racking up the DNPs while the Blazers chose to go with three rookies (Leonard, Damian Lillard and Victor Claver) in a tightly-contested third quarter like on Wednesday.

I thought Leonard’s night – 13 points, all coming off thunderous dunks and free throws – was a celebration of youthful exuberance. He posed and snarled after his slams. The kid was pumped. But, Denver’s Andre Miller got his grown man on and his ol’ school fundamentals provided the go-ahead bucket with less than 30 seconds remaining. It was anything fancy. Miller got to the low block, pump-faked Hickson into submission, pivoted and floated in a layup.

I told Aldridge that was “old man basketball” at work.

“Exactly!” Aldridge exclaimed. “Now that’s old-old man basketball.”

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