Proverbs 20:5 “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.”
LaMarcus Aldridge wasn’t living up to expectations. Last summer, after a disappointing loss in the Western Conference Finals, he was even called out by Coach Popovich, specifically for his timidity. A one-time superstar was stuck. He was frustrated, and his team was suffering.
But now, according to a report from NBA.com’s Shaun Powell, Coach Pop and LaMarcus Aldridge are on the same page. There relationship has changed for the better, LaMarcus Aldridge is having an incredible season, and the Spurs are winning – even without the injured Kawhi Leonard.
How did this happen?
It was due to a heart-to-heart conversation at the end of the summer.
Popovich says: “We broke bread a few times, talked about it, laughed about it, discussed what we thought needed to happen, and frankly 95 percent of it fell on me because I made an error in trying to change him too much. That might sound odd, but he’d been in the league nine years and there’s one way he plays on the offensive end and feels comfortable with.”
Pop wanted Aldridge to play differently than he did when he was in Portland. He wanted his star to be someone other than who God created and gifted him to be.
“I tried to turn him into Jack Sikma, told him I was going to teach you how to play on the elbow, go on the wing, face up. It was confusing for him. I tried to change him. I tried to make him a different player. It really didn’t fit his style of play. I was guilty of over coaching in a sense.”
Coaching someone out of their identity and strengths doesn’t lead to positive results. Aldridge’s production paid for it. The Spurs suffered for it. And everyone was frustrated. It was even rumored that Aldridge might be traded, which would have ended the relationship.
Then, something changed.
Coach Pop says: “We came to an agreement on what had to happen. Well, on defense, I told him ‘I’m going to get on you like I do everyone else. But on offense, I don’t even want to talk to you. When they double you, kick it. Other than that, you be LaMarcus Aldridge.’ You see the result right now. He’s happy, confident and kicking everybody’s butt.”
Not many coaches and players would have repaired a soured relationship after so much strain. Gregg Popovich and LaMarcus Aldridge did.
Aldridge told Yahoo Sports: “I didn’t know [what would happen after last season]. After that talk, and how well Pop took it, I thought things would get better. And they have… I told him how I felt, I knew he would listen, and he did. How I am now is how I thought it would be in the first couple of years. I’m a different player than [anyone] they’ve had in the past. I understand it takes time to mesh me into their system. I feel like we have kind of learned each other.”
Coach Popovich gave LaMarcus Aldridge the greatest gift any coach can give. He gave him permission and provided room for him to be the best he could be. Now, Aldridge is back to doing what he does best, the Spurs are winning, even without Leonard, and everyone, especially Aldridge, is happy.
Here is the statement that is so convicting. Coach Pop says: “We broke bread a few times, talked about it, laughed about it, discussed what we thought needed to happen.”
This should pierce the heart of every leader. We can only have an honest conversation about something difficult when we feel safe with one another. This is what Coach Pop did. He created a safe environment for he and Aldridge to focus on their relationship, work though the problem together, and come up with a lasting solution that benefits everyone. Coach Pop kept the relationship bigger than the problem. With growing self-awareness, a willingness to admit his mistake, pursue humble collaboration, seeking understanding and adapting for the sake of the bigger picture – Coach Pop modeled the essence of good leadership.
In a way, this is what ALI is all about. We create a week-long environment of safety for strong leaders to: ‘break bread, talk, laugh, and discuss what we needs happen in our lives.’ We celebrate and affirm our relationship with the Triune God. We open the Scriptures, ask God to speak into our lives, and discern how to respond faithfully to who He created and redeemed us to be. We affirm calling and gifting in a posture of humble expectation that invites clarity and break through.
ALI exists to help you be the best you – for God, for your freedom and joy, for your family and those you serve – for the win.