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?”
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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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