In recent weeks, rumors have swirled around the Houston Rockets’ James Harden’s purported demands for a trade, with the Portland Trail Blazers amongst those teams Harden reportedly wishes to join, and any such deal would require the dismantling of the Blazers’ lauded backcourt, separating CJ McCollum from Damian Lillard. After McCollum’s lights-out performance against Harden and the Rockets, with 44 points, eight assists, and a game-ending dagger, it seemed natural that the rumors would take front stage in media availability after the team’s overtime win. In addressing them, Jason Quick of the Athletic reports that McCollum took the questions in stride.
“What am I supposed to think?” McCollum asked rhetorically. “I play the same position as James. If there is a trade for James, who is going to be in the trade?”
Asked about a moment where the two jawed near the sideline, McCollum made a joke.
“Just catching up to see how everything is going,” McCollum said coyly. “He had an eventful summer (chuckle) … you know, see how everything was going.”
Yet Quick notes that despite McCollum’s acknowledgment of the rumor, what McCollum really wanted to focus on is the quality of the relationship he has with point guard Damian Lillard.
“I think besides Steph (Curry) and Klay (Thompson), we are probably the only backcourt that not only gets along, but like, empowers the other,” McCollum said. “There is no competition. I don’t force my way into the game if he is playing well; he doesn’t force his way into the game. I just let whatever is going to happen, happen. I’m comfortable not taking shots, I’m comfortable playing a role. I do what is necessary for the team.”
Lillard recognizes that what he has with McCollum is special.
Added Lillard: “The way that two great players get along is by supporting each other and allowing each other to be great, and have big nights and be supportive of that. Me and him, we have mastered that.”
That balance allowed them to ride McCollum’s hot hand to a much-needed win over a depleted Rockets squad — one that still dominantly featured Harden, who balled out with 44 points and 17 assists, notching a double-double before halftime. But the fact that both of them see the value in their relationship with each other, both on and off the court and in spite of the specter of the Beard hanging over them, speaks to the culture the two have created in Portland.
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