While convalescing with a fractured left foot, CJ McCollum joined Bill Simmons on his podcast earlier this week to talk his career, trades and broader NBA and social issues.
The Portland Trail Blazers star spoke at length about his early days as a Blazer and his relationship with Damian Lillard.
“It’s a credit to our organization for trusting in us, allowing us to grow together. I didn’t start out great, I didn’t start out playing, I started off injured, Wesley Matthews was there, Moe Williams. I was basically third string shooting guard, third string point guard, I had to work my way up, but Neil (Olshey) was patient, Terry (Stotts) was patient and they did a great job developing us and allowing us to figure it out, that’s the thing you have to do a lot of time when you’ve got two guys who like to have the ball in their hands.”
There’s never rumors about CJ this or CJ that, or Dame this or Dame that. It is what it is and we want the best for each other, he wants me to be the best version of myself, if I can go get 40, he’s telling me go get 40. If he’s about to get 50 I’m like bro, you’re about to go get 50, go ahead, stop calling plays for me. Ride the wave of how hot you are. And I think that shows where we’re at and how we were raised. I’ve never been a hater in my life.
McCollum deconstructs the sharp improvement in his play before injuring his foot against the Atlanta Hawks on January 16.
“It wasn’t a hot streak (earlier this season) because I worked on the things that were translating, shooting more threes, shooting my threes off the bounce, playmaking, understanding when to get mine versus when to get other people involved.
“Trying to get D (Damian) off the ball more, being cognizant of those things, having been in the NBA for seven, this is my eighth year. Having played alongside D as a starter for six years, you kind of figure things out and you work at certain stuff, working smarter, not necessarily just harder.“
“Taking care of my body, understanding the quick turnaround of the season and then understanding that 72 game season, COVID year, my focus had to change.”
“This is the year where I really just wanted to focus on me, focus on my body, hire who I needed to hire, it’s unfortunate I ended up getting injured on a layup but I’ve taken my game to another level and I’ll consistently be able to do that until I retire because I know what it takes now, I know what type of work it takes the type of mindset.”
“How I’ve played at the start of the season is how I would typically play in the playoffs, that same type of intensity, that same focus, not taking possessions off as we typically do in the regular season. I wanted to really get off to a great start not just for myself individually but for our team because of what was at stake for this year.”
He touches on his name often showing up in trade rumors, a number of which have been initiated by Simmons.
“This is the first year where you (Bill Simmons) didn’t put me in like a Kevin Love or an Aaron Gordon trade. You try to get me traded every year, literally. It’s a gift and a curse because it’s one thing for people to want you traded but it’s another to have value.“Some people can’t be traded, they’ve got terrible contracts, nobody wants them and in my case I have a unique talent that is wanted by the masses, I suppose.
“I am in trades every year, it’s two-fold, you don’t want to be traded, I’m happy here, I enjoy my role, I enjoy this city, I’m in a great spot. You’re capable of this so why not just go do it and challenge yourself and do it for a whole season, as opposed to in spurts or as opposed to just in the playoffs.”
McCollum also highlights what the Blazers need to contend for a title.
“I’ve averaged 20 points per game since I’ve been a starter, I can do that, I can get out of the bed and get 20. Now I need to be able to go some nights it’s 30, sometimes it’s eight assists, some nights it’s 10 assists, I need to be getting five rebounds, defensively I need to be in the right spots. I need to be able to call certain plays.”
“I need to get D (Damian) off the ball, figure out how to get Nurk touches, understanding the game more, I’m almost 30 years old now, the maturity level shifts, you understand what needs to be done to win. I need to score points efficiently, make my teammates better, still win games and look good doing it. Where it’s like oh this is different, he’s playing different because my impact is evolved, I was impacting the game now I’m really going to impact the game in every facet.
He also briefly talked on the Portland, James Harden trade rumors earlier this season, including the Blazers’ first hitout with the Houston Rockets on December 26.
“I had been playing well before that game, I was hitting five three a night before I hit nine three that night. People were calling me saying, you know, you’re getting traded, I’m like I don’t think so, but you never know in this business.
“I wasn’t thinking, oh I’ve got to prove who I am against Harden. James is a great player, I’m not James Harden, the way I play is completely different, he’s unique in that way, only he can do a lot of what he does. I’m not ever going to try and go be that, I’m just going to be the best version of myself.
“If you get traded for James Harden, you got traded for arguably the best 2-guard in the NBA, that’s saying he’s pretty good, that’s saying you’re pretty good too.
McCollum projects the rest of his career and talks about his and Lillard’s legacy after their playing days are done.
“The story telling behind it, small schools, foot fractures, I’m the first person to be drafted from Lehigh, he’s the first person to be drafted from Weber. He gets his jersey retired while he’s still playing, I get my jersey retired at Lehigh. We come together, we play well, we’re undersized, we’re this, we’re that, eight years later, seven straight years in the playoffs. He’ll go down probably as the best Blazer ever, I’ll go down as one of the best Blazers ever. Hopefully we can win a championship. Looking at what we’ve been able to accomplish, I think is inspiring for people because it’s two guys who have similar games, aren’t jealous of each other, are friends, actually genuinely get along, it’s not forced. If I never accomplish individual accolades,
“I signed up for a team sport and I get paid extremely well. And I do my job every night, regardless of circumstances and I think we’ve gotten to that point early on in our career where it’s like there’s enough out there for everybody, let’s figure out how to eat together.
Finally, he gives a brief update on how he is recovering from the foot inury.
“I’m two weeks in, I got a check-up on, I think, the 15th, I got a check-up in like in two weeks, 13 days from now, so that’ll be four weeks in a boot and then I progress from there.“We’ll see how I feel see how I’m moving on the court and all of that stuff, but I’ve got two more weeks in a boot that’s for sure.“This is my third one (foot injury). This one was a lot easier to deal with.”
Listen to the podcast here. McCollum comes on at the 28-minute mark.