It’s far from all CJ McCollum’s fault the Portland Trail Blazers are struggling, and currently the 10th seed in the Western Conference with an 11-14 record. His field goal and free throw percentages are down, but he’s still averaging 20.6 points per game and shooting nearly 40 percent from the 3-point line. The Blazers’ league-worst defensive rating, 113.5 points per 100 possessions, is a team effort. Their best player, Damian Lillard, is currently injured and having the worst season of his career, averaging 21.5 points per game on 31.7 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from three.
As of Tuesday evening, McCollum is also dealing with an injury. He is sidelined indefinitely with a collapsed lung — I know that sounds terrifying but USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt provided some context in a story in which he mentions players who have suffered that injury, and that includes Gerald Wallace, who had to have air drained with a chest tube from around a lung and only missed seven games.
Then there’s the off-court controversies. The hiring of Chauncey Billups as coach that brought to public attention a criminal rape allegation against him in 1997, for which he was never charged. When asked about it during his introductory press conference Billups answered one question about it, and before he could answer another he was cut off by the Blazers’ communications manager.
That was during the summer. Just last week, the Blazers fired their general manager, Neil Olshey, following a toxic workplace investigation. Per a report from Yahoo’s Chris Haynes, Blazers’ employees were subjected to profanity-laced tirades and bullying. On Monday, The Athletic reported that Lillard has “grown frustrated with the team’s play.” On Tuesday, McCollum told The Athletic’s Jason Quick, “I didn’t come here to tell you there’s a lot of shit going on… but yeah there is.
Lillard offered up a denial on Twitter about the report on him from The Athletic, and commented on a Tuesday about a story by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski about what he and his camp want. Lillard was publicly frustrated, however, this offseason following the Blazers’ first-round exit to the Denver Nuggets — sans Jamal Murray. With Olshey out it’s time for the Blazers to make the move that they should’ve made a while ago, trading McCollum.
This team maxed out during the 2019 postseason when it was fortunate enough to land on the side of the bracket opposite the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors. The Blazers advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2000 and took on the Warriors, who were without Kevin Durant. The Blazers held some big leads in games but ended up getting swept.
McCollum played the best postseason basketball of his career that year. In 16 games, he averaged 24.7 points per game on 44 percent from the field and 39.3 percent from three. What followed was the NBA transaction bonanza of 2019 when Anthony Davis was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, Russell Westbrook was traded to the Houston Rockets, Kawhi Leonard signed with the Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul George was traded to the Clippers.
The Blazers… acquired Hassan Whiteside in a four-team trade that sent Meyers Leonard to the Miami Heat, Maurice Harkless to the Clippers. The biggest name in that deal was Jimmy Butler, who went to the Heat from the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Blazers have tried to overhaul this roster several times and keep McCollum and Lillard, but it has not made them a championship contender. They even made a trade with the Toronto Raptors for Norrman Powell last spring, as the 2019 NBA Champions were starting to tear down the roster for a rebuild. The Raptors currently have a better winning percentage than the Blazers, who are supposed to be trying to win a championship.
It’s time for the Blazers to stop tinkering with this roster and finally get it fixed. There are only two players on this team who can be traded and bring back a significant haul of talent: Lillard or McCollum. The problem with trading Lillard, even though he’s had a rough start, is that the Blazers need his production and the attention he draws as a No. 1 option. They won’t get enough back for him in a trade to replace that.
That leaves McCollum as the only way. He’s been a very good player, appears to be a great teammate, and is quite the sommelier, but it’s time, and has been time for years, to make a move. The popular move on NBA Twitter is to send him to the 76ers for their disgruntled second-best player, Ben Simmons. It would improve the Blazers’ awful defense and give them a pure playmaker, but the 76ers would need more back than just McCollum. Their defense has taken a huge step back without Simmons, falling from second in the NBA in defensive rating to 18th and McCollum won’t help improve.
A mutually beneficial move could be done with the Indiana Pacers. The Athletic’s Shams Charania is reporting that the Pacers would be willing to trade Myles Turner. That trade gives the Pacers a dependable 20- point per game scorer and the Blazers would get rim protection and a 3-point shooter.
The Blazers need to do something soon to try and turn this tumultuous season around, or in 2022 Powell might be the only familiar face in their uniform.