For the first time in his nine-year NBA career, CJ McCollum is no longer a Portland Trail Blazer.
Yesterday, the franchise great was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans for a four-player package and picks. The deal also sent forwards Larry Nance, Jr. and Tony Snell to New Orleans.
For the better part of a decade, McCollum formed a strong partnership with Blazers franchise superstar Damian Lillard on and off the court. The duo became known as one of the best backcourts in the league, forming a high-octane offensive attack and taking the Blazers as far as the Western Conference Finals in 2019.
Now, as the dust begins to settle from an active 2022 NBA Trade Deadline — which still isn’t done yet — Lillard faces a future in Portland with a radically different roster and without his long-time friend. In a piece released today for NBA.com, Lillard opened up to reporter Casey Holdahl about no longer playing with McCollum and his future with the franchise.
For years there was speculation that a trade could — and maybe should — break up Lillard and McCollum. Lillard said they both knew it was a possibility. After multiple seasons with lackluster Playoff exits and a sputtering start this year, they knew a trade was even likely. Still, yesterday’s news was hard for Lillard to take.
As a friend and a teammate, I love CJ, that’s like a real friend of mine, not just my teammate. We always been transparent and nothing was different this time where it was like, “I think something could happen” and he was like “Yeah, I know something is going to be coming up.” It is what it is, we both knew that this point would be coming. But that don’t make it no easier to deal with. I think that’s where I am now. Me and him literally talked about it happening, the possibility of it and it was likely and stuff like that, and I still woke up this morning like, sad. It’s actually done. When I’m seeing “CJ To The Pelicans” and stuff like that, it’s like damn, ain’t no coming back from this, this is it. It ain’t gonna be no every day, pull up to the house, dinner on the road, all that stuff. It’s done, he’s on a new team. As much as I understood it and he understood it and we kind of have always communicated in a transparent way, it don’t make it any easier to deal with or to look at. Like man, is it really over? Is the run really over? And that’s where we are.
McCollum had set up a home in Portland during the last nine years and immersed himself in the community. In September he bought vineyard property in Oregon for his wine business. Last month, he and his wife Elise welcomed their first child. Lillard said McCollum is “gonna roll with the punches,” but given his long history in Portland, must also be struggling with the news.
He didn’t want to be traded, he didn’t seek a trade, but he’s smart and we know how this game goes, we’ve been around a long time. So I think he understands and accepted it, but that don’t make it easy. Like “Man, this is my home, I’ve been here for a decade basically. This has been the organization that I’ve played for my whole career and it’s really over.” So I think that’s where he was. He understands, he knows how this game is, but that didn’t make it okay with him, I’m sure. It’s tough. Just like how I’m saying for me, I think he felt the same way.
Now that their time as teammates is officially over, Holdahl asked Lillard to reflect on his nine seasons with McCollum as a teammate. Through their highs and lows together, the main word that came to Lillard’s mind was “trouble.”
I think we’ll be remembered as trouble. We never won a championship together, we never played in the Finals together, but we have always been a winning team. Us together, we’ve always been a winning team, we’ve always been a playoff team, so we never had empty success in games.
Looking ahead, the future is uncertain for the Blazers. The McCollum trade came on the heels of another major trade. Last week the Blazers traded starters Norman Powell and Robert Covington to the Los Angeles Clippers for three bench pieces and a second round pick. The decision to overhaul most of the roster has led to renewed speculation about Lillard’s desire to remain in Portland.
Yet again, Lillard reiterated his commitment to the organization and faith in interim general manager Joe Cronin’s vision for the future.
For me, my heart is Portland Trail Blazer. I want to win it. I know that I have a plan that’s going to put me on my best level when I come back to play. And I want our team to fit that.
Another move in the next 48 hours could bring more change to Portland’s roster. The NBA Trade Deadline passes tomorrow at noon Pacific.