These are the salad days for the L-Train, or L.A., or whatever moniker one chooses to bestow upon LaMarcus Aldridge.

The Trail Blazers' captain and All-Star power forward is 28, an age where physical prowess and mental maturity seems to blend and allow the best of the NBA's players to enjoy their heyday.

Aldridge hopes he hasn't yet hit his peak, but the Dallas native is having the time of his life as the leader of a Portland team with a bonafide chance to win an NBA championship.

"I'm in the best place I've been at, both physically and mentally," Aldridge says, relaxing on a bench at the team's Tualatin training facility after a recent workout. "Last season, I felt stronger physically than I'd been, the result of a lot of weight training. Then over the summer, I didn't do anything but work on my skill level.

"I feel smarter (as a player) now. When you've been in the league eight years, the game makes more sense to you. I've heard guys say that when you get older, the game slows down for you. I feel that's where I'm at now. The game isn't moving fast. I know what I want to do, and I do it. Having the teammates I have now helps me do that."

Aldridge is at peace now with his situation in Portland, a far cry from where he was at the end of last season, when the Blazers semi-tanked their way to a 13-game losing streak and a 33-49 record.

At the time, much was made of Aldridge's desire to leave the city and move on to where he had a better chance for success in the playoffs. After seven seasons, he felt he had given his all to help make Portland a winner. The future didn't look rosy to him. He felt a change of scenery might be best-suited for both sides, since the Blazers would surely land major talent in return.

Aldridge expressed his thoughts to general manager Neil Olshey, who had decided he wanted to build a foundation around Aldridge and Rookie of the Year point guard Damian Lillard.

"Neil and I talked all summer," Aldridge says now. "I was unhappy with what happened last season. He said, 'I know you want to win now. We're not going to rebuild. We're going to bring in some guys to win now.' We went back and forth. He said, 'Let me bring in some guys to help you.' And that's what happened."

At one point, Olshey asked Aldridge, "What is the one thing you really want?"

"I want a big guy next to me in the paint," Aldridge responded.

"Neil brought in a rock," Aldridge says now. "Whatever I expressed interest in, he did."

The "rock" was center Robin Lopez, who has been better than anyone, even Olshey, could have predicted.