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How Viable is a CJ McCollum for Aaron Gordon Trade?

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The suggestion has Blazers Nation all abuzz. The Blazer’s Edge staff takes a harder look at it.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer proposed a purely hypothetical trade sending Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum to the Orlando Magic for forward Aaron Gordon. The suggestion generated plenty of comments on Blazer’s Edge, as well as a couple e-mail submissions to the Mailbag. Like this one, for instance...

I’ve been a loyal reader for almost 7 years now. I lived in Portland for 5 of those and was a season ticket holder. I witnessed “The Shot” in person and the Trailblazers are became the first team that I am beholden to. I’ve enjoyed sports for years, but never had a team until the Blazers.

This email is in regards to the article today at The Ringer wrote about an Aaron Gordon for CJ trade. The proposed trade is Aaron Gordon and Terrance Ross (a Portland native) for CJ and either Meyers or Mo. The more I watch this current team, the more I think trading CJ is the best way to improve. I respect your writing and your opinion. What are your thoughts on this?

Sincerely,

John

This subject calls for multiple perspectives, so I enlisted the help of some friends.

Brian Freeman (@BrianFreeman24): I like potentially getting off of Meyers Leonard’s contract one year earlier, but the rest of the deal doesn't make a lot of sense. Right now Portland has a hole at the small forward spot and could use an upgrade at power forward. After the proposed trade, Portland is left with a surplus of talent on the interior while not addressing their weakness at small forward, and creating a situation where they now don’t have an NBA-level starting shooting guard either. By default Terrance Ross would be the starter, and he can’t even start for the Magic now. This is a shuffle of pieces that leaves Portland with a better financial situation moving forward, at the expense of talent and roster balance.

The best argument for the deal is that if it was a prelude to a second trade, it could make sense. I love Aminu, but having him come off the bench is not the best use of him. That, along with the fact that he is a free agent at the end of the year, makes him expendable. If the Blazers were to follow this trade up with a deal that centered around swapping Aminu and a pick for a starting level 3 and D wing on a good contract, I could be persuaded. But as much as I am hoping the Blazers do make a move at the deadline, moving forward with Jake Layman and Ross as the teams best wings is a hard ‘No’ from me.

Eric Griffith (@EricG_NBA): The Ringer suggested basically this same trade yesterday and, honestly, I am hesitant to engage with it because there’s no indication that it could become a reality. Neil Olshey has repeatedly rebuked any hint that McCollum might be tradeable and the last rumor I can find about Gordon being on the block is almost a year old.

To me, what’s most interesting is that this subject is of serious interest to Blazers fans (see yesterday’s article with literally hundreds of comments). Blazer’s Edge originally floated the idea of selling high on McCollum over three years ago — as near as I can tell this is the first article to suggest it — and at the time my conclusion was that “the Blazers will be disinclined to sell high unless they are offered a premium asset in return.”

That we are STILL having this conversation 37 months later is somewhat alarming. One would have hoped that CJ’s status with the team would have stabilized by now, but instead it’s still an open question whether or not he could be magically swapped out for an upgrade at forward. The reality is that Olshey opted not to sell high on CJ two years ago ago so I don’t expect him to sell low now (yes, that’s a dare, by the way). I just hope the trade rumors stop some day.

Isaiah De Los Santos (@IsaiahDeLos): I’m really on board with this trade given a certain boredom that has set in since we’ve watched relatively the same team since 2015-16. CJ McCollum is basically what he’s been since his Most Improved Player season: a good, sometimes great, isolation scorer who isn’t the greatest playmaker and is undersized at the two-spot. For this team to get better, one of the two backcourt players were the likely avenue to acquire talent on the wing — and I don’t think Damian Lillards grow on trees.

I can just imagine the alley-oops Lillard and Gordon could hook up on. Gordon’s ability as a playmaker out of pick-and-rolls is also intriguing; he’s averaging 3.3 assists this season compared to McCollum’s 2.6 per game. I also appreciate that Gordon keeps working to improve his game. He’s upped his 3-point percentage from the high-20s in his first couple of seasons to 35.2 percent this year.

To spice up this team, and for the potential of nightly poster dunks, I’m all-in on this hypothetical.

Dave Deckard: This is one of those trade ideas that’s hanging around at the bar at 11:45. Its attractiveness depends on perspective and position.

On a national level, a trade like this gets suggested by people who are pretty sure that neither team is going anywhere as-is. They’re also pretty sure that neither team would go anywhere after the deal, but at least it’d be more interesting to see a new configuration. This is great for writers and analysts, not so great if you actually care about the teams involved going forward.

Folks who love this deal on a local level are the equivalent of a 50-something guy looking at trading in the reliable, somewhat sporty Subaru for a sports car. It looks shiny. It’ll go faster. Imagine the possibilities!

Reality check: It’s not a time machine, restoring youthful dreams. You don’t look that much better. You can’t do as much with it, and day-to-day driving is probably going to be more work now.

Go ahead and get it if that’s your thing, but don’t fool yourself about what you’re getting into.

Gordon is one of the more spectacular finishers in the league. His best range by far is within three feet of the hoop. On the non-breakaway plays, you’re going to want him inside or running screen plays with the point guard. Losing territory and touches will convert the Bosnian Beast into the Bosnian Bust.

If he’s not dunking, Gordon has taken to shooting threes. That’s good for Portland’s system. His .352 percentage from distance isn’t. That’s virtually the same as Al-Farouq Aminu’s .354, except Gordon attempts two more threes per game. Gordon’s .317 career three-point percentage trails Aminu’s .338 as well. This is the best AG has ever shot the long-ball by far and it ain’t great.

Gordon is no prize in the mid-range, except he shoots a relatively respectable .369 between 10-16 feet. The Blazers don’t like that shot. They can get far better results letting Damian Lillard shoot all the threes he wants.

In short, even in his strongest areas, Gordon isn’t an offensive match. His defense argues for him, but the Blazers already have a pretty good defender (with non-versatile offense) at power forward and it’s not pushing them into contention.

If Portland makes this deal, it’s to save money and sell posters. They’ll also hope that at 23, Gordon has plenty of growth left in him. He might, but since his zenith will come well past Lillard’s prime, his ascendancy will likely come at the expense of Jusuf Nurkic, and they’ll trade CJ McCollum to get him, they’d be nerfing their current Big Three to make ESPN’s highlight reel more often.

Thanks for the question, and to Eric, Brian, and Isaiah for responding! Send your Mailbag questions to blazersub@gmail.com and we’ll try to answer!

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—Dave / @davedeckard / @blazersedge / blazersub@gmail.com