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Would the Trail Blazers Bite on CJ McCollum Trade Offers?

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He’s the second best player on Portland’s roster, but he’s also one of the most valuable in trade. What possibilities do the Blazers have?

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

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On to the Mailbag!

Hey Dave,

The Blazers season has not gone as planned and preparing for next season seems more pressing. I think that a team with two undersized guards who are paid max-salary and are below average defenders likely will not contend for a title.

With the poor start to the season calls for trading CJ McCollum have emerged, again. I have two questions on the topic and I’m curious if you share my belief that CJ may not be as tradeable as some may believe, at least in terms of receiving valued assets in return.

One, if CJ were a free agent this summer, how many teams would sign him for his current contract terms that pay him a little more than $32 million on average for the next four years?

Two, what can the Blazers realistically expect in return if they decide to trade CJ?

Best,

Trey

There is, and always has been, depth to this question. Trade value is not static. It depends on the talent and salary of the player, of course, but also the shape of the league and the time of the year. We also have to account for the value of the player to his current organization.

For years, CJ McCollum’s currency has fluctuated. The public has viewed him alternately as an untouchable star and a somewhat-redundant sidekick to Damian Lillard. He was never either of those things, at least not for long. Instead, he’s pretty much what you’ve described: an immensely talented player who should draw interest on the market, who might have room to grow on the right team, but who isn’t an automatic “yes” for every potential trade partner.

The question of how many teams would sign McCollum to a $30+ million deal if he were a free agent doesn’t quite work. Few teams actually have that much money to spend in a given year. We could make it work in a couple ways:

  • If all 30 NBA teams had a completely blank cap roll and had to sign an entire roster, some (but not all) would consider inking McCollum to the deal he has. He’s a Top 20 scorer, one of only four players to achieve that status as the second-best point producer on their team (LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Jayson Tatum). He has a track record of high production and he can fit in most any system. If he weren’t a first selection for somebody, he’d be a prized second for most.
  • If all 30 NBA teams had McCollum, along with the option to re-up him at that price and make a run at the playoffs, most would consider it strongly. The only way they wouldn’t is if McCollum were their only star and they were light years from contention.

That does not necessarily equate to McCollum being tradeable, however. Signing or re-signing a player costs cap space, which theoretically a team was going to use anyway. They only incur the opportunity cost of losing space they could have spent on a different player (and not even that if they use Bird Rights). Trades require assets going outward. That limits the market.

Even so, I don’t think you have to worry about CJ’s trade value. He’s still a match for an upwardly-mobile team looking for scoring, and what upwardly-mobile team isn’t?

CJ is also more replaceable for Portland than he has been since his rookie season. He’s as good as ever, but Portland also has Anfernee Simons and Rodney Hood waiting in the wings. The roster can score big without CJ. They need help at other positions. This makes a McCollum move more than lateral, which has not been the case in prior seasons.

I would be surprised if McCollum were traded mid-year. The possibilities are far more limited, as everybody’s cap space is accounted for already. The Blazers need to move Hassan Whiteside as well, and how many partners for $27 million salaries can they find?

Come summer, though, all bets are off. The Blazers not only should consider it, they have to. If they can bring in a forward who scores 15-19 and makes a difference on the defensive end, they can probably make up enough of CJ’s offense to make it worthwhile. And that’s just one scenario.

Blake Griffin would have been a workable target for a McCollum trade had his health allowed. Aaron Gordon still could be. The Blazers could also think of packages for younger players. They could talk to the Lakers about veteran guards and Kyle Kuzma. The Pelicans have J.J. Redick and Lonzo Ball. Buddy Hield is grumpy in Sacramento.

I’m not saying the Blazers would or should consider these specific options, but they’re all possibilities. Of the players the Blazers would actually trade, only McCollum brings the right combination of talent, experience, contract, and stability to get higher-level moves done.

Long story short, I wouldn’t worry too much about McCollum’s value. The bigger question is how to make incoming players fit and whether any combination of new guys will be enough to push the Blazers over the top.

Thanks for the question! Keep them coming to blazersub@gmail.com!