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Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum Say They Belong Together

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Erik Gundersen of the Columbian interviews Portland's starting backcourt about swirling trade speculation.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

After a summer of reconstruction, the Portland Trail Blazers opened the 2015-16 season with a single returning starter: Damian Lillard. This led pundits to speculate that Portland had too few quality players to succeed, but a half-season of watching Lillard play next to backcourt mate CJ McCollum changed their tune. Lillard is posting 24 points and 7 assists per game, McCollum 21 and 4. Those same pundits are now asking whether the two can co-exist, whether Portland has too many talented players in the starting lineup.

In view of this speculation, Erik Gundersen of The Columbian sat down with Lillard and McCollum to ask them what they thought about swirling trade rumors and expert opinions that they are not destined to play together long-term.

Lillard responded by citing their chemistry and dispelling any vague notions of conflict.

It kind of bothers me that people say it can't work... but I think it doesn't work when two guys may not respect each other. Two guys might not like each other. One might want to one-up the other guy or things like that. I think it bothers me for those reasons. Everything else is just a challenge.

McCollum echoed Lillard's sentiment, turning the spotlight back on the media:

"People are going to talk," McCollum said. "The better you get, they're going to talk. Before the season ‘I wasn't ready, I couldn't be a starting two guard.' Now I am a starting two guard but now ‘I can't start alongside Dame.' They're going to keep figuring out things to say. That's the media's job."

The media have floated McCollum's name in many hypothetical trades, but he's used to the doubts. Heck, he was listed behind Gerald Henderson in most season previews.

"They said the same thing about Draymond Green, look at him, he's an All-Star," McCollum said. "He's an undersized big but the reason they're successful is because of their offense? No. He's starting a trend now. Teams are looking for the next Draymond Green."

The man who matters most, Trail Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts, offers a full thumbs up to his young backcourt:

"I think they compliment each other very well on the court and personality-wise," Blazers coach Terry Stotts said.

Gundersen teases out much more in the interview but it appears for now that the Blazers are comfortable with their starting guards, even if others aren't.

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