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CJ McCollum: Blazers Should Be Kept Intact; Breaking Up Backcourt Is a “Lateral Move”

McCollum appeared on ESPN’s First Take to discuss Portland’s early playoff exit, what he needs to improve, and why breaking up the Blazer backcourt doesn’t help the team.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

CJ McCollum is one of the more public Portland Trail Blazers in the offseason, making various media appearances and putting his journalism degree from Lehigh to work. With the Blazers bowing out of the NBA Playoffs early on, much attention turned to McCollum and backcourt partner Damian Lillard’s performance against the New Orleans Pelicans.

On Wednesday, McCollum joined ESPN’s First Take to talk about a variety of topics surrounding Portland, and the First Take hosts took turns poking and prodding McCollum on sensitive topics.

One topic surrounded the Blazers’ supporting cast and what McCollum thinks of Portland’s background contributors:

Max Kellerman: I don’t see you and Damian Lillard as anything holding you back on that team. You guys are All-Star caliber players. What do you think the team is lacking right now in terms of personnel, CJ, to take you guys to the next level?

CJ McCollum: In terms of personnel, I think we have some really strong pieces, some good pieces right now; not to make excuses, but Moe Harkless was hurt going into that series. He tried to play and ended up sitting out the rest of the series. But he was one of the pieces we needed. His versatility on the defensive end, being able to guard Jrue Holiday potentially down the stretch of games, I think we missed him.

Stephen A. Smith then called Portland’s future into question, wondering if the team can really stick together and compete:

Stephen A. Smith: You speak as if you plan on being there for years to come. Do you feel that this team should be kept intact, or are you of the mindset that changes might need to be made or may actually happen?

McCollum: I think the team needs to be kept intact. I think you can’t panic. Although the playoffs didn’t go as planned, we felt like we should have been able to advance and take a step forward. We got better in the regular season. A game and a half, two games separating three from seven, eight [seeds]. I felt like we put ourselves in a position to have home court and didn’t take advantage. That’s on us to figure out ways to improve.

Kellerman then went into asking the Blazer guard what he needs to improve to help the team take the next step:

Kellerman: CJ, what do you have to do to get better in this upcoming season? What part of your game do you think you need to most work on?

McCollum: I think I got to work on ball handling, continue to tighten that up, playmaking in the sense that I can make plays for others, but being able to empower certain guys and put them in position to succeed is the next step for me.

McCollum then turned the questioning to the First Take hosts on what the Blazers need to improve:

McCollum: Here’s the better question: What do you think we need?

Smith: Me personally speaking? I don’t know if you and Damian should co-exist.

Smith elaborated on the point:

Smith: I think that the both of y’all are ballers. The problem is I don’t think that anybody else that you have can get you all the pieces of support that you need to get over the hump. To me y’all are like a better version of the Wizards with John Wall and Bradley Beal. Y’all can ball. But what you do together you need help and you can’t get that help without sacrificing one of y’all to do it because nobody else around you has enough value to get you the pieces that you need to get over the competition that you’re going to go against.

McCollum rebuffed the idea that trading one of the team’s two stars for pieces to support the other is a good idea:

CJ: If you trade one of us, that’s a lateral move. How much better you can potentially get from trading one -- I think it’s a lateral move.

You can watch part one here and part two here of McCollum’s appearance.