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CJ McCollum Trade Proposal: Why and How

Kevin O’Connor looks at the Trail Blazers’ options as the trade deadline approaches.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Though the thought may be unpopular to fans of the Portland Trail Blazers, the reality is that trading CJ McCollum may be the team’s best option moving forward— at least, according to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor. McCollum has high trade value and would probably have to be included in a package for Portland to obtain a much-needed rim protector or impact player. O’Connor addressed the Trail Blazers’ defensive needs, some potential trade candidates, and a blueprint for how to make it happen in his evaluation of the NBA’s mid-season arms race.

O’Connor identified centers Andrew Bogut, Tyson Chandler, and Nerlens Noel as players reportedly on the trading block that would fit the team’s needs. He argues that while Bogut and Chandler are both too old to make a lasting impact for the team, the Philadelphia 76ers’ Nerlens Noel could be just what the Trail Blazers require. Noel is only 22 years old and the Sixers have an abundance of big men, meaning they would likely be open to trading the disgruntled center for the right price in return.

However, a bigger problem remains, which O’Connor points out:

An elite rim protector would help, but he can’t patch up every breakdown. The best defenses are a collection of five players all working as one. A single weak link — never mind two — can ruin it all. That’s proved true for the Blazers, as both Lillard and McCollum have been revolving doors against even average opponents, let alone elite players. Defense is important. Only one of the NBA’s last 20 champions finished with a defensive rating outside the top 10 (the 2000–01 Lakers). But when a team has one of the worst defenses in the league, championship aspirations can be thrown out the window. The Blazers are limping into the postseason, and that’s about the most one could possibly expect from a team that plays no defense.

O’Connor suggests that a backcourt of McCollum and Lillard, no matter who is up front, is not good enough defensively to be a championship-caliber team. Consider Sunday’s game against a below .500 Pistons team. Head coach Terry Stotts substituted out both guards in late-game, must stop situations. That speaks volumes to the fact that no matter how good McCollum and Lillard have been offensively for the Trail Blazers, their defense is a complete liability.

There is yet another wrinkle to the story. Because of McCollum’s poison pill contract provision, the 76ers are one of the few teams with enough cap space to actually be able to take on his contract in a trade this season. O’Connor presents the following proposal: McCollum to the Sixers for Noel, the Sixers’ unprotected 2017 first, the Kings’ unprotected 2019 first, and multiple second-round picks.

That would give the Blazers three first round picks in next summer’s draft, including two potential lottery picks (their own pick and Philly’s) and a late first-rounder (Cleveland’s pick) in what is projected to be a very deep draft. This could be a move that would vault Portland into a championship contender in the coming seasons, but could also reset the contention clock during Lillard’s prime window. Of course, it’s one thing to talk about a move, and another thing to pull the trigger. President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey is very high on McCollum, and for good reason.

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