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Could CJ McCollum Be the Blazers’ 6th Man?

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A Blazer’s Edge reader wants to know if the Trail Blazers could improve their defense and bench scoring by playing McCollum with the second unit.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Mailbag time! If you have a Portland Trail Blazers question, send it to blazersub@gmail.com and we’ll try to answer it.

Dave,

The improved defense in the Raptors game is largely being attributed to blitzing the pick and roll. Do you think part of it was also due to the length and D that comes from starting AC over Dame/CJ at the 2? Should we revisit the old "CJ as elite sixth man ala Jamal Crawford" conversation and consider starting AC or ET at the 2 and bringing CJ off the bench?

Buh

First, you have to put more thought into your nickname than that. Terry Stotts would sit you on the bench for a week if you showed that kind of effort getting back in transition. >>>hands clapping, Stotts scowl<<< Let’s go, Buh!

Second, the very reasons you want to make this move are the reasons you can’t.

If it’s about defense, CJ McCollum will argue (correctly) that he was part of the defensive renaissance. Only one person wasn’t. He’s not bench-able either, but if you’re not going to throw him under the bus for the previously-struggling defense, you can’t toss CJ under there. Also keep in mind that Portland’s new and improved defense doesn’t have much of a track record. The “Allen Crabbe makes it better” theory may not turn out to be true. The improvement may be due to the return of Al-Farouq Aminu and it doesn’t matter who starts in the backcourt. Either way, McCollum is not going to be amused if you ask him to take a back seat for reasons that aren’t rock solid.

But who are we kidding? Neither McCollum nor his agent would be happy with this switch for any reason under the current conditions. CJ is young, establishing a reputation, and has solidified his credentials as a 20-point scorer. He’s the second best player on the team and he’s far closer to first than third in that regard. It’d be one thing if the Blazers had fulfilled their promise in the LaMarcus Aldridge years and were knocking on the door of the NBA Finals with veterans at the wing positions. Maybe they could ask CJ to take a bench scoring role behind Wesley Matthews (and his defense) to win a title in that scenario. The Blazers are 14-20, 10th in the West, and falling well below expectations. Under those circumstances McCollum could not be expected to view a bench assignment as anything less than a mortal insult. “You’re already under-performing and you want to put one of the only two legit stars you have in reserve? Are you crazy???” If the Blazers didn’t reach the upper echelon of the conference after that change, McCollum would throw up his hands and ask why they demoted him just so they could be mediocre. He’d have a point, too.

I’m not saying CJ is selfish, bad, or temperamental at all. I believe McCollum would ultimately do what was right for the team. At this point demonstrating that benching him is right for the team is nearly impossible.

It goes without saying that losing McCollum’s goodwill would be disastrous for the Blazers...the steel beam that would break the Chemistry Camel’s back. (And that thing’s already spitting and balking way more than expected.) If the experiment didn’t work—again, defining “work” as winning far more games than they would have otherwise—he’d have the right to rake everyone involved in the decision over the coals. No matter how much they love their roster (or how much they think incremental tinkering can improve it) no coach or GM is going to stick out their neck to make the case that Crabbe, Aminu, or Evan Turner should start over a Top-20 scorer in the league.

I do get where you’re coming from and I agree that solutions like this are worth considering. In another situation a bold move might be the right thing. I don’t think exchanging McCollum for Crabbe would snap the Blazers out of their current slump. Nor do I think the move would be palatable for anyone involved, including the people ultimately tasked with making the decision. For those reasons this idea is way closer to being a non-starter than CJ McCollum is.

Keep those questions coming to blazersub@gmail.com AND... beat the post-Christmas blahs by helping us send 2000+ kids to see the Trail Blazers face the Philadelphia 76’ers on March 9th! Here’s how!

—Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @Blazersedge / @DaveDeckard