Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical traveled out to Northeast Portland on Wednesday afternoon to record The Vertical podcast with Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum. They spoke for 40 minutes about McCollum playing at Lehigh, winning Most Improved Player, growing into a leadership role, and more. The full podcast is available, here, and is worth a listen. Check it out. Here is a preview from the 20-minute mark:
It was like all upward tick last year. The team surprised people. You had emerged, Dame was having a great season, you win a round in the playoffs and play the Warriors pretty tough. But, all of a sudden, this year when now there’s expectations and people say this is a 50-win team and this is maybe a team that could host a first round series, and then it doesn’t happen and the team’s struggling people are now pointing at you two, going ‘Hey, you’re the guys.’ What was that like to go through this year when this team struggled and now, like, fingers start to get pointed at you. ‘You just got a max contract.’ Like, ‘play better,’ right?
Yeah, exactly. And I think with great success comes great responsibility, and as a guy who’s in this position now, you accept that. You accept the blame, you accept the credit when it happens that the team succeeds, it’s the team; when the team fails, it’s Dame and CJ. It’s not the Blazers failing, it’s ‘Why aren’t Dame and CJ playing well together? Can they coexist?’ All the question marks come, so we’re built for that. I can withstand it, I can handle it, and I understand that we have underachieved.
I felt like we should have been a 50-win team. I felt like we had the pieces in place. Obviously, things didn’t go as well, we had some unexpected injuries—Chief being hurt 19 games, ET being hurt, Dame missing games again this season—it’s been a unusual season, not to make excuses, but I felt like we were turning the corner, we traded for Nurk, we had a good March, one of the best teams in the NBA since All-Star break, then Nurk goes out again. So, we go through these times where there’s trials and tribulations, but I think that helps build character and we understand that nothing’s going to be given to us.
Just because we beat a—what’d they say?—‘undermanned’ Clipper team, a Clipper team we were supposed to beat essentially, because of the injuries, and then we played the Warriors well but it was a gentleman’s sweep; that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to have success the next year. So for us, we set high expectations, we feel like we still can meet some of those expectations, finishing over .500, making the playoffs, but it’s just all about learning. It’s not going to be a easy smooth process.
I think the Warriors went through it early, being able to draft Steph and Klay. There was a reason they were able to get both of those guys, you know, they struggled. Once they got together, took some time, they got Draymond, they got some players and they made that run—I think it was a few years ago—against Denver, I was actually going through the pre-draft process when they started having success. But they struggled first, so I expect us to struggle as well and go through those times where things aren’t going to be great, but it’s all about how you overcome it.