Rival executives have painted all of CJ McCollum, Norman Powell, Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington as potential trade candidates. The destination most often linked to McCollum has been New Orleans, who could sensibly deal Jonas Valanciunas and Josh Hart. That would give the Blazers a center replacement for Nurkic, a strong veteran contributor in Hart and sneak Portland under the tax. It would seem the Pelicans would be more willing to part with Tomas Satoranksy and Jaxson Hayes over Valanciunas, however.
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The Pelicans could make a strong offer for some of the top names available in this year’s trade deadline. They hold the sixth-worst offense in the league and could use a scoring boost if they’re trying to make a push for the play-in tournament. For example, they could make an offer consisting of Josh Hart, draft picks, and salary filler for scoring guards such as CJ McCollum or Buddy Hield. An additional ball-dominant scoring threat could help them in late-game situations.
Anfernee Simons’ recent explosion also has league executives chattering about the future of CJ McCollum in Portland, and to a lesser extent that of Norman Powell. Simons is headed for a lucrative restricted free agency this summer, and Portland is already trying to evade paying the luxury tax. Assessing the interest for McCollum is somewhat difficult given his recent collapsed lung and a decline in production at the age of 30. But former GM Neil Olshey’s regime valued McCollum quite highly, and there’s a sense among some rival executives that McCollum would have a sizable market at a lower evaluation than Olshey may have held.
Some executives around the league view McCollum as a negative trade asset, one the Blazers would need to send with compensation to get him off the team’s books.
Sean Highkin: Chauncey Billups says CJ McCollum is doing cardio again. No timetable for a return but signs are encouraging about his recovery from the collapsed lung.
Is it personally hard to hear your name in trade rumors? CJ McCollum: I’ve always focused on controlling the controllables. I can’t control any of the noise that comes with playing this game. I can say that as a basketball player you will be involved at some point in rumors regardless of the magnitude because you play a sport. The media kind of dictates the story line. Success and failure also plays a role.
The Sixers have long targeted Lillard, who reaffirmed his desire to stay in Portland around the start of the team’s training camp. After the recent firing of president of basketball operations Neil Olshey, Cronin has publicly and privately said the franchise plans to keep building around Lillard. The Blazers have been open to discussing a deal for Simmons centered on guard CJ McCollum, but that conversation never gathered traction, sources said.
Michael Scotto: I feel the Blazers have tried to win with Damian and CJ for so long. There are some executives I’ve spoken to who agree with my own opinion that if they were running the show in Portland, they’d start a rebuild. Norman Powell is 28 and in the prime of his career. He’s played well enough and is signed long-term for the future. Robert Convington and Jusuf Nurkic could interest playoff teams before they hit unrestricted free agency. CJ has plenty of value. Lillard would be the crown jewel of the market because Washington and Chicago have improved, and a lot of people around the league were hoping Zach LaVine or Bradley Beal would hit the trade market. That’s really unlikely at this point, given the success of their teams. Lillard or McCollum would be the most attractive trade piece a team could get out there overall.
According to Shams Charania, Lillard is interested in playing with Simmons and a package including McCollum, a first-round pick, and a young player such as Nassir Little or Anfernee Simons has been discussed. Such a deal would be close to a wash salary-wise, which is important considering both teams are a little over the luxury tax. While completely blowing it up now is at least worth a discussion, it’s probably more pragmatic to acquire an All-Star like Simmons first, especially at that price, and try to compete.
If the Blazers cannot acquire Simmons, Pascal Siakam would be another great addition to the team. A lot of the same arguments for acquiring Simmons such as the defensive versatility he brings and lineup configurations he allows can be applied to Siakam. It also helps that both players earn identical salaries, allowing the Blazers to put together a similar package for Siakam.
A bit of important reporting we will try not to bury in a recap — a source familiar with the situation spoke to PhillyVoice on Monday evening and said the Sixers have had no recent discussions with Portland regarding a CJ McCollum trade, and a package centered around the Blazers’ guard is not currently of interest to the Sixers.
“Me and Dame have a good relationship,” McCollum said. “I think when Dame speaks, you hear him. When you hear ‘sources’ and ‘anonymous’, I don’t necessarily know if that is Dame or not, because it’s not Dame putting his name on it. He generally puts his name on things. I know where he stands with me, and he knows where I stand with him. The organization, they need to do what is best for themselves.” I asked where he thought he stood with Lillard. “If he wanted me to leave, I think he would say that,” McCollum said. “He’s not speaking on me behind closed doors because that’s not in his DNA. He’s not built like that. He’s solid, and I know his word is his bond.”
I asked him if he felt his future in Portland was more cloudy or uncertain now that Olshey is gone. “That’s a question for somebody else. I just do my job: show up for work and do my job,” McCollum said.
As I looked down at his text message, I was taken aback. Enough so that I pulled over and read it again. “Oregon is home,” McCollum wrote. “Always will be. I got married here. My son will be born here. We bought 318 acres here and started planting our vineyard here. This city and organization have been very good to me and my family. We’re forever grateful.”
As my car idled on the side of the road, my mind raced. Did I miss something? Did McCollum get traded? I did a quick search. Nothing. “Damn,” I texted back. “You make it sound like a goodbye.” “It’s not a goodbye,” he replied. “I’m still here, my friend.”
On top of it all, the Blazers (11-14) have lost six of their last seven games, many in blowout fashion. That bonfire of rumors is starting to put out enough heat that McCollum can feel it. “Try having a kid in the middle of COVID,” McCollum said before leaving the Moda Center. “That shit ain’t normal. Now, try having a kid during COVID amid trade rumors in the middle of the season. Yeah …”
For years, people close to the situation have suggested that Olshey let that dynamic blind him as the Blazers have tried to make the leap from a consistent playoff team to an actual contender. As the Blazers have tried to find the right mix around Lillard, trading McCollum was a popular idea externally but viewed as crossing the rubicon internally.
Some have even suggested that Olshey would have been willing to trade Lillard before moving McCollum, though that speculation will now remain a thought experiment permanently.
“I read everything, I see everything, I hear what people say about me and all that stuff, and that’s a part of the game,” said McCollum. “But I’m going to go out there and hoop and do my job. People that don’t know will know. And the people that already know are the ones that pay me the big bucks. “I’m here, and I ain’t going nowhere.”
When you hear that Morey is resistant to deals built around the likes of Brogdon and Portland’s CJ McCollum, as well as a report from The Athletic’s Shams Charania that Philadelphia would want three first-round draft picks and the right to swap three more future first-rounders in a McCollum-centric deal, it’s clear that he feels no rush to make a move. If there are any stressors making the Sixers uncomfortable, while Simmons stays away and faces frequent salary deductions, they are difficult to detect.
I’ve talked to people who say Portland’s been hesitant to move (CJ McCollum) for Ben Simmons because they think CJ is a better, more polished adult player than Ben Simmons, who was a bit of a mystery right now.
McCollum was once again asked to address the trade rumors, and as usual, the former Most Improved Player winner had a response that was far from definitive: “I think the same way I always do, man,” McCollum said with a smile, via NBC Sports Northwest. “I control what I can control – continue to work on my game, continue to take advantage of my summers, try to improve… And show up and do your job. “It’s going to be what it’s going to be at the end of the day. I’m happy in my situation. I’ve been able to continue to figure out ways to improve and help us make the playoffs eight straight years, six straight years as a starter and I look forward to the challenge of trying to get back to the playoffs this upcoming season.”
But it sounds like Portland is not actively shopping McCollum. I don’t know whether that is because Portland doesn’t agree with how teams value McCollum, or whether Neil Olshey is overly infatuated with him, but the general tone I’ve heard is the Blazers won’t move him just to have a different look next season. The trade has to make them better, and so far, other teams haven’t met that bar.
There has also been an intriguing CJ McCollum-Pascal Siakam trade framework discussed between Portland and Toronto, though talks between the teams have yet to generate significant momentum, sources said. Rival executives believe the Raptors’ selection of Scottie Barnes seemingly reinforces Siakam’s availability for trade.
Teams are calling the Blazers and asking for CJ McCollum and, in return, offering Portland a chance to get into the top part of the draft. But Portland is not entertaining those offers because they are in a win-now phase and looking for veterans more than rookies to build around.
The Sixers hope to enter the Lillard sweepstakes, not settle for McCollum. But there’s pressure on the Sixers front office to maximize Joel Embiid’s prime. And just like Simmons could be better in Portland, McCollum could be better in Philadelphia.
Yet even if Morey, deep down, wishes he had a do-over on his January or March dealings, he has shown little inclination to rush into shedding Simmons, which is undoubtedly a nod to one of the most complex situations he has ever faced. All teams covet the biggest stars, but Morey is especially obsessive about it. He will surely tune out the naysayers who suggest Simmons can no longer be the centerpiece for the acquisition of a Bradley Beal-type superstar. Portland’s CJ McCollum has been mentioned often as a potential Sixers target in a Simmons deal; rest assured that Morey longs for Damian Lillard if he is targeting any Trail Blazer.
Mannix noted in the clip above that McCollum has been told he isn’t being traded this offseason. But Quick believes the likelihood that Portland moves McCollum this summer is “probable, if not certain.”
Obviously, a move like that would have to come with Lillard’s blessing. Olshey has acknowledged that over the years, any move of note — a trade or free-agent signing — has been first run by Lillard to receive his endorsement. If Lillard thinks Simmons could work, then that’s the type of move that gives the Blazers a chance to make an instant jump because it addresses their biggest weakness: defense. I’ve also heard Boston could be interested in a player like McCollum, and I’ve always thought Marcus Smart and his defense would be a great pairing in Portland (obviously it would take more to make salaries match, but Smart would be a great start).
Because of his contract ($30.8 million in 2021-22, $33.3 million in 2022-23 and $35.8 million in 2023-24) and his talent, McCollum is the quickest and easiest way to improve — or at least shake up — the Blazers. Even Olshey, who has long valued McCollum perhaps more than the rest of the league, seemed to soften his no-trade-CJ stance in his postseason address to the media, saying “nothing is ever off the table if it advances us closer to a championship.” In previous years, any suggestion of trading McCollum was met with scoffs from Olshey and proclamations like, “Why would I break up the best backcourt in the NBA?”
Now, six seasons into the pairing of Lillard and McCollum as the starting backcourt, it’s become apparent they are not the best backcourt in the NBA. Perhaps the biggest blight in the Olshey era has been paying McCollum to be the second All-Star next to Lillard and McCollum never realizing that potential. Lillard and McCollum have produced a .557 winning percentage in the regular season, but have a 15-30 record in the playoffs, which produced just three series wins. And while Lillard has improved or evolved every season, McCollum has largely remained the same player, although in the first 13 games of this season he was playing the best defense of his career, leading the team in scoring, among the leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio, and on near-record 3-point shooting pace. But … it was 13 games. Then he broke his foot, missed two months, returned and was good, sometimes very good, but never great again. And most notably, McCollum never made an imprint on this year’s playoff series against Denver despite going against Morris, Austin Rivers, Facundo Campazzo and Markus Howard.
The mystery in the trade-McCollum-chatter is how he is viewed around the league. Internally in Portland, McCollum’s value goes beyond his 3-point shooting and crafty scoring. He is an exceptional worker, is of high character, and has been essential in establishing and maintaining the Blazers’ lauded culture that is based on hard work and respect. And it is often overlooked that for much of the past six seasons he has served as the Blazers’ backup point guard. In the last three seasons, the Blazers offense ranked second, third and third.
CJ McCollum: I’m not offended brotha. I came from nothin. To more than something. I work hard, show up and do my job to the best of my ability. Everyone has a right to their own opinion. Even if that means they want to see me traded. It’s a part of life when you play this sport. Blessings.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were mentioned as one possible destination for McCollum. The San Antonio Spurs like McCollum, but his name hasn’t gained traction within their trade scenarios.
Alongside Lillard in the backcourt for the past eight seasons has been CJ McCollum, a player often mentioned in trade scenarios but one Olshey has adamantly said he wouldn’t trade. McCollum expressed disappointment in his performance in the series; he averaged 20.7 points on 46.2% shooting but missed a few critical shots in both Games 5 and 6. Asked about his future, McCollum politely declined to engage the question. “My job is to get better. Work on my game to improve so that I can help the team,” he said. “My job isn’t to worry about those things.”
A source said they’re also monitoring Portland’s CJ McCollum, who is rehabbing from a broken foot and still has about $100 million guaranteed over three years after this season.
McCollum shot down any notion that playing Harden while the rumors swirled added any motivation to his game Saturday. “Look, I know I’m nice, man. I don’t need to psyche myself out to go against one of the best players in the world,” McCollum said. “Like, James is really good. Regardless of what James does in his spare time, James is really fucking good at basketball … like, really good. So I don’t need to get extra sleep to go guard a guy that averages 35. You know what I mean?”
Lillard and McCollum don’t just coexist on the court. They are close off it. They vacation together. Workout together. Heck, even their mothers are close. There is a depth and transparency to their relationship that is unmistakable. It’s why Neil Olshey, the Blazers’ president of basketball operations, has so staunchly rejected the idea of trading McCollum. Years ago, when asked about breaking up the backcourt, Olshey broke from his strict policy of not addressing player contracts or status. He countered with his own question: Why would he break up one of the best backcourts in the NBA?
Olshey and Harden have remained close since Harden’s youth, when both lived in Los Angeles. Olshey was an assistant coach at Artesia High, where Harden later attended after Olshey left, and when Olshey was hired by agent Arn Tellem to be a workout specialist for draft prospects, he and Harden forged a friendship that hasn’t wavered. Whether the Olshey/Harden connection is strong enough for Olshey to consider breaking up the Blazers’ backcourt buddies, and if so, whether Portland has enough assets to satisfy Houston are questions that nobody is answering.
With social media buzz of potential trade scenarios for Portland, Frye weighed in on the idea of dealing CJ McCollum. And he made sure to let everyone, including the Boston Celtics, know what he thinks it would take to get a trade done for McCollum. Channing Frye: “If you want CJ McCollum and somebody, you’d have to give me Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart… That’s what I see CJ’s value as.” Frye reiterated for the Blazers to trade McCollum, it couldn’t just be for Celtics wing Marcus Smart. Frye threw in Smart and Gordon Hayward as another potential trade pair.
The leaguewide interest level in Aaron Gordon is murkier. Brooklyn discussed chasing him in prior years, but that is probably moot now. He makes sense in Portland, though NBA Twitter’s beloved Gordon-for-CJ McCollum swap has never been discussed in any serious way, sources say.
The Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have no interest in joining the NBA’s player movement — even as the stars have seen their competitors demand trades and forge new allegiances.
As for Lillard and McCollum? They represent the rare stars who have resisted forging new alliances in different uniforms. Why do that when they have each other? “Everybody has the right to make the decision that they feel is best for themselves, That’s the way the league has gone,” McCollum told USA TODAY Sports. “But I’m indifferent. I really just work on myself and work on how I can get better for our team.”
Ben Golliver: Blazers’ CJ McCollum: “We got swept last year. It was on TV every day. They talked about me getting traded, how we can’t win together. I was able to fly to Europe to see my brother play because the season ended so early. I told him this year, I ain’t going to be able to make it.”
Turner, meanwhile, said if one wants to nitpick, the Blazers could use a shot blocker. And the hot topic in Portland, and one that is growing around the league, is wondering whether Olshey will trade one of his most prized talents, CJ McCollum. “What’s his name … Bill Simmons has been trying to get me traded for like five years,” McCollum said the day Simmons’ website The Ringer posed a McCollum for Aaron Gordon trade. “There’s a proposed trade for me three times a year by him. I admire the fact that he thinks I’m worthy of being traded to … 12 teams.”
Given what you just said, does it bother you when you hear people say the Blazers should split Dame and CJ up? Jusuf Nurkic: Look, what do you get when you split up Dame and CJ? You get a lottery team, 20 wins probably in a year. That’s not the goal. For a small-market team, I think that Portland is not appreciating what Dame really is. You’re not going to get anytime some player like Dame here. Everybody knows that. The way he treats the city, the way he treats the people, the way he treats the guys around him. Even a person he just met, any day, he treats every person the same. That’s what’s amazing for me to see.
There have always been whispers in league circles that Portland should break up the Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum duo, but there has been no indication it will. Portland is a playoff bubble team, though, and has few other avenues to make noteworthy changes.
Danny Marang: “I’m a loyal person. I think that’s just how I was raised…(notes about early career injuries)…I would like to raise my kids here, get married here. But again this is a business.” – CJ on stars demanding trades
It’s been reported that Olshey has previously rejected offers for Lillard and McCollum. But that doesn’t mean the phones will stop buzzing. Even before this series, league executives had assumed that Olshey would break up the duo if they failed again. We’ll find out in due time, but the idea should be entertained.
Joe Freeman: This is a tired debate, IMO. Important people have made it clear to me that McCollum isn’t going anywhere. (http://www.oregonlive.com/blazers/index.ssf/2018/02/portland_trail_blazers_brace_for_nba_trade_deadlin.html) And I can assure you Lillard isn’t going anywhere. It’s incumbent on the front office to put the right players around them.
Executives around the league told SN that McCollum will continue to be a target in the offseason, especially if the team struggles to make the playoffs or falls out of the picture altogether. “They have a lot invested in those two guys [McCollum and Lillard], and if they’re not making progress, they’re going to get a lot of good offers,” one general manager said. “They are excited about [forward] Zach Collins, but they need help at the forward spots long-term. And everyone likes C.J. McCollum.”
A source with knowledge of the Blazers’ deadline thinking told The Oregonian/OregonLive that McCollum is not — and never will be — going anywhere, even though his name has been attached to rumors involving Kevin Love and the Cleveland Cavaliers. That stance echoes past comments from Olshey, who has labeled his dynamic shooting guard off limits to interested parties.
“It’s a tough situation to be in,” McCollum said. “I always tell people … imagine you show up to work every day and there’s rumors about you being traded from your job to another job in another city Every day. And imagine that it actually happens. But you find out the same time everybody else finds out. And you’ve got kids or you’ve got a wife, whatever the case may be. Maybe you bought a house. And now you’re traded and you have to move to another city. And it’s out of your control. Literally out of your control. So it’s a tough situation to be in, but a part of the business.”
Some folks have pitched deals centered around C.J. McCollum. Portland continues to reject any inquires on McCollum and Damian Lillard, sources say.
Zach Lowe: I’ve heard the same as you, which is that any, any, any calls to break up the Damian Lillard/CJ McCollum backcourt have been summarily rejected by the Blazers. Do they have anything cooking in terms of getting under the tax? Adrian Wojnarowski: I think Maurice Harkless is a player that has been discussed in some different places, and that’s certainly a position the Blazers have wanted to get better at and upgrade. But it’s tough, everybody in the league wants—there’s such a premium on wings. And Harkless had his best season a couple of years ago before they did the four-year deal, and he hasn’t played as well since. Sacramento, in the past, has had some interest in him.
Are you hearing the Blazers may look to trade Lillard or McCollum? Sam Amick: “I’m not hearing that. In fact, the last time I talked to someone who inquired about those guys to Portland was about two weeks ago and Portland said they aren’t moving their guys. But you always have to look at the personality of the executive and Neil Olshey is not only one of those really aggressive GMs, he’s one of those turn-over-every-rock GMs. He’s also a guy who’s very good at laying in the weeds, so a lot of his stuff gets done in the dark and we don’t hear about it until the very end. … But they have to think about this stuff. When you look at the standings and you’re a middle-of-the-road team that has no shot of winning a championship or even getting to the Conference Finals, you have to try to get something done. And Marc [Stein] is obviously one of the best in the business and I’m sure he’s getting it from a good place, so it is something worth watching.”
This is the year Portland will break up the potent backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum: The Blazers don’t want to trade either one, especially when they awoke Wednesday ranked seventh in the league in defensive efficiency despite the annual external skepticism about the pairing’s capabilities at that end of the floor. But the easiest path to balancing the roster is by parting with one of their two guards — most likely McCollum — for a package headlined by a frontcourt player on their level. No one’s suggesting it’ll happen before the Feb. 8 trade deadline, but Portland’s latest so-so season threatens to be the impetus that finally pushes the longtime Blazers owner Paul Allen in a new direction.
Adrian Wojnarowski: Portland’s goal is to build around CJ McCollum, Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic. They’re not interested in trading any of those three players. They would love to bring another impact player to add to them.
“We hear everything that’s going on, just like the rest of the fans,” said Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum. “Whether it’s rumors or people actually tweeting at us, we see everything, but it’s part of the business we live in. It’s a tough part of it but just got to try and stay focused and understand that a lot of this stuff if out of your control. You can’t control trades, you can’t control a lot of that stuff. All you can control is your preparation and how you react to it.”
“Rumor are just that: rumors,” said McCollum. “Unless (The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski) tweets it I don’t really believe it because Woj knows all things. He is the guru of breaking news. Unless he tweets it I don’t really pay much attention, but I’m sure there’s a little truth to a lot of rumors, or some truth to it in terms of teams taking calls. I’m sure teams are taking calls, they’re not just going to hang up on people, so I’m sure teams are taking calls…That doesn’t mean they’re going to make a trade.”
One league source told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne that the Portland Trail Blazers called to inquire about Drummond but quickly abandoned their interest when Detroit asked for Blazers guard C.J. McCollum in return. The Blazers, sources told Shelburne, regard McCollum as an untouchable.
Leonard, Crabbe and Harkless aren’t eligible to be moved until Jan. 15. The team isn’t looking to trade McCollum or Turner, league sources say. In actuality, a trade not involving McCollum wouldn’t bring back a player capable of moving them up to the tier with the likes of Golden State, San Antonio and presumably Houston.
Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated joined me on the Bald Faced Truth radio show (12-3p on 750-AM and 102.9-FM) to talk about why he thinks the Trail Blazers are struggling and what can be done to fix it. Golliver pointed to atrocious team defense and the absence of Al-Farouq Aminu. But also, that the Blazers would likely have to include CJ McCollum in any trade that would net them a star in return “If you’re going to try and acquire another star, you’ve got to figure McCollum has to be in the package to do that,” Golliver said.
You can hear the snickering: How is a core of Lillard, McCollum, and a Monroe-level import going to compete with the Warriors, Thunder and Spurs? This is why some executives on other teams have kicked around the possibility of Portland eventually including McCollum in a megadeal for some disgruntled star — a path Olshey isn’t considering now.
Even as Olshey has a man-crush on McCollum, and has privately said he wouldn’t dream of trading him, the general manager should be looking and listening when it comes to offers for the guard between now and Feb. 18.
Oregonian columnist John Canzano thinks Portland should explore a trade for guard CJ McCollum, who’s averaging 20.8 ppg as a No. 2 option behind Damian Lillard for the Blazers this season. McCollum saw the article on Twitter and clicked on Like.
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January 28, 2022 | 10:01 pm EST Update
Sarah K. Spencer: Wow. Hawks beat the Celtics, 108-92, and are now on a six-game win streak. They move to 23-25, inching closer to .500. Lead got down to 1 early in the fourth, but the Hawks buckled down and responded with clutch plays. Had 10 blocks, 10 steals, just 10 turnovers.
Jim Owczarski: Forgot to note that Lindell Wigginton exited the league’s health and safety protocol the other day for the #Bucks