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For Nets, LaMarcus Aldridge is essential personnel not just ‘feel-good’ story

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Phoenix Suns v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

LaMarcus Aldridge is not a luxury. He is a necessity, essential personnel.

As Alex Schiffer writes Monday, LMA (or LA, your preference) has gone from a feel-good story in August to an “X-factor” in November as the Nets re-jigger things to compensate for the absence of Kyrie Irving, injury and illness.

He’s made over $200 million in his career. He’s a seven-time All-Star. He’s already a candidate for the Hall of Fame. Yet, he returned to the Nets in September, in part to prove that he still has the desire to win a title that has proven elusive. So far, he has backed it up. In 19 games, Aldridge is averaging 13.8 points while shooting 58 percent from the floor. That production has helped fill the void left by Kyrie Irving. When Aldridge scores in double digits, the Nets are 11-2.

There’s other data out there that shows just how big a deal his return from premature retirement has been. He leads the NBA in midrange shooting percentage at 61 percent, for example. He’s averaging 22.4 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per 36 minutes with shooting splits of 58/38/79 in 19 games. Overall, that’s considerably better than his five-game sample last season when his per-36 numbers were 17.7 points and 6.6 with splits of 52/80/100 in five appearances. Then, there’s the eye test.

“He looks amazing,” Kevin Durant, Aldridge’s longtime friend, said recently, as Schiffer notes.

Schiffer also writes that before he retired last year after experiencing heart arrhythmia that he considered taking what would have been a leave of absence.

“I just felt like that was the cleanest thing I could do for myself mentally and for the guys here was just to walk away,” Aldridge told Schiffer. “They knew I was done. I wouldn’t be in the back of their minds as things went on, and I had the time and could just figure it out.”

It wasn’t until after the season, after disappointment and some depression, that he began the long process of coming back, starting with getting tested and monitored. Then, after passing that milestone, there was medical approval, from his own doctors as well as those for the NBA and the Nets. As Schiffer has written in the past, he got initial pushback from both his agent, Jeff Schwartz, and his friend and Nets GM Sean Marks.

But with green flags flying all around, the 36-year-old made his decision. The Nets were his only real choice. Whatever doubt there was, it evaporated with his “aha” moment, the Nets big win over the 76ers.

Aldridge scored 23 points off the bench on 10-for-12 shooting to win a tight game against the Sixers, though he saved his best work for the decisive fourth quarter. Aldridge made all five of his shots. It included a dunk that tied the game in the final minute and free throws that put the Nets ahead for good.

Slowly but surely, Aldridge “built” on that and this last week, he moved into the starting lineup, In his last five games, he’s averaging 19.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and a block in nearly 29 minutes. He’s shooting 58.1 percent overall.

What happens if he experiences arrhythmia like he did last April again? He told Schiffer he’s confident that he and the medical staff can handle it.

“You can’t think about it,” he said. “I don’t think about it at all.”