The offseason has arrived for the Portland Trail Blazers. In the weeks and months ahead, President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey must construct a roster that maximizes Damian Lillard’s prime window. Unfortunately, the Blazers have a limited amount of cap flexibility, zero assets in the 2021 NBA Draft and a roster that is headlined by two highly-paid guards.
With those hurdles in mind, could this finally be the offseason where the Blazers explore a trade that involves CJ McCollum? Judging by Olshey’s comments on Monday, don’t hold your breath (you can re-visit Olshey’s full press conference by clicking here).
In what is sure to develop into a multi-part series, Blazer’s Edge contributors Adrian Bernecich and Steve Dewald discuss the tip of the iceberg in the McCollum debate: is McCollum a “positive” trade asset?
Steve: First off, I think the label “positive trade asset” is completely subjective. For me, a player is perceived to have positive value when three things align: the salary-to-output ratio is favorable, the player in questions plays at position of need and that player could potentially fit on multiple timelines.
When it comes to McCollum, I might be a little on the downward edge of the curve. Of the items I mentioned, I only see him earning high-to-moderate marks in two areas. The third, the salary-to-output ratio, is a clear sore spot.
Adrian: I agree with most of this but I still think there are misconceptions surrounding McCollum. He’s spent eight seasons (well six since the departure of Wesley Matthews) next to Damian Lillard, operating in his shadow. McCollum’s similar game (minus the ability to get to the rim consistently) means he’s never really had the opportunity, except for the times that Lillard missed due to injury, to show this.
I think the shrewdest of the other 29 front offices realize this and know a different setting for CJ might help him flourish with different players around him. I will say that with his defensive shortcomings he won’t fit on every team but if we’re to believe the rumors, there is some interest.
Steve: Trust me, I want to buy into this line of thinking. But for most of it, it is a bridge too far. I don’t want to get down in the weeds, so I will pose it as a question that I often ponder when I watch the Blazers play: what does McCollum do when his shot isn’t going in?
When it comes to getting his teammates involved, there is no comparison between McCollum and Lillard. Lillard’s carries a career 30.5 assist percentage. McCollum’s assist percentage clocks in at 17.5. Defensively, outside of a few series against Klay Thompson, McCollum is a complete liability. No matter the setting, those are two attributes that are tough to shake.
That brings me back to my initial scale. When looking at timelines that McCollum fits on, I doubt there is an organization that is internally discussing that they are a McCollum trade away from contention. Making a push to the postseason, maybe. But that is where the length and size of McCollum’s contract factors in. As we are all finding out, mediocrity is only fun for so long.
Adrian: Oh, there’s no doubt about that. I think ESPN’s Zach Lowe said it best last week. The main motivation for trading CJ is to attain a genuine second star to partner with Dame. Unfortunately, McCollum is not a second star, he’s probably a good third option on a contending team. Why would another team give up a genuine second option for someone they expect to play a lesser role on a title contending time? As you said, if he was five years younger, there could be more room to move.
The Blazers are in a position where they are hoping for a few things. One, a contending team falls flat on their face and feels they need to shake up their roster. I’m looking at you Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers. Second, a player demands out. Finally, a team refuses to pay a self-proclaimed star the money he wants.
Steve: Alight, I think we have found common ground here. I think McCollum’s value probably falls in between my pessimism and your realism. Obviously, I don’t feel like the Blazers are going to land a true bonafide second star with McCollum as the lone asset. Actually, I would argue that McCollum might complicate a bilateral trade discussion. Instead, I think the Blazers must thread the needle in the exact scenarios you mentioned—if that opportunity arises.
That’s it for this week’s discussion. Steve and Adrian will be back soon to discuss additional topics regarding the Blazers’ offseason and the roster construction projects that await.