The end of waiting for Dame and CJ
The tale of a really good backcourt that kept going up against one of the NBA's best.
Someday it would click for Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and the Portland Trail Blazers they said.
It will happen.
That ended Tuesday with Portland shipping McCollum to New Orleans for some spare parts and a few picks. The new plan, the Blazers say, is to quickly rebuild a barren roster around Lillard.
Trust us. Wait and see. It will happen.
And here in 2022, there’s little argument against the trade — maybe save for the compensation. The Blazers are 21-33, Lillard is hurt and a core that wasn’t good enough in its younger prime to beat Golden State in the 2019 Western Conference Finals has added mileage. If the goal is to get Lillard, Portland’s best player of all-time, a championship while he’s still in Portland, the plan had to change and McCollum had to go. Because now the Blazers have potential to make moves. And potential is everything.
It’s just unfortunate that it all gets placed into today’s championship-or-bust prism. It "not working” between Dame and CJ meant eight consecutive playoff appearances and six 40-plus-win seasons. It meant tag-teaming the Denver Nuggets for one of the grittiest series wins in franchise history and routinely filling the Moda with fans hoping to see something special, even if Lillard didn’t have it going. McCollum’s 50 points against Chicago in 2018 equaled Clyde Drexler’s franchise best.
There’s streets here named after that guy.
Remember, McCollum came from Lehigh as the player known for this photo and a late-stage growth spurt. He was drafted in the first round and didn’t come with comps to hall of famers, but to Lillard, another small-school guard who made it big.
Blazers coach Terry Stotts said he envisions McCollum jumping into his rotation immediately, most likely in a sixth man role as a playmaking combo guard. But Stotts and Olshey also say they think McCollum can play alongside Lillard at shooting guard. The two could form a dynamic and multifaceted twosome that would feature scoring, shooting and playmaking.
Nine seasons of games showed McCollum wasn’t quite the second-coming of Lillard, but he was damn good in his own right — a dynamic and graceful scorer with few rivals at the midrange game. He and Lillard did form the second-best backcourt in the NBA — only to have the misfortune of running up against one of the NBA’s all-time best combos in Golden State’s Klay Thompson and Steph Curry. The Warriors eliminated the Blazers from the playoffs three times in eight years, winning 12 games to Portland’s one.
So now comes the rebuild for a franchise that hasn’t drafted a star since McCollum, with no recent history of signing one through free agency, either.
Lillard turns 32 in July. There’s still some potential there.
Hopefully it clicks this time.
— Tyson Alger
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