Friday afternoon, the Portland Trail Blazers announced to the NBA world that they are open for business.
Portland sent veterans Norman Powell and Robert Covington to the Los Angeles Clippers in an act of surrender on the 2021-22 season. But their work isn’t over yet. With a few days left until the NBA trade deadline, the Trail Blazers could be laying the foundation for a trade involving longtime guard CJ McCollum.
CJ McCollum is reportedly available in trade talks
At 21-32, few expect much from the Blazers this season. Especially with franchise star Damian Lillard recovering from abdominal surgery. The pessimism was only confirmed when Powell and Covington were shipped away in exchange for Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson, and a 2025 second-round pick.
So it should hardly come as a surprise to see McCollum on the trading block.
According to Michael Scotto of Hoops Hype, rival executives around the league believe the Trail Blazers will move McCollum by the trade deadline or this offseason. McCollum is currently on the first year of a three-year extension worth $100 million.
McCollum, 30, has been Lillard’s backcourt partner for the better part of a decade. Since entering the NBA in 2013, the 6-foot-3 guard has averaged 20 or more points seven times including this season. While his scoring efforts haven’t been rewarded with any All-Star appearances, the former Lehigh star was named Most Improved Player in 2015-16 after going from 6.8 to 20.8 points per game.
The Trail Blazers moving on from McCollum feels inevitable
With limited postseason success, both Lillard and McCollum have been at the center of trade conversation for a number of years. But with Portland committed to building around Lillard, his sidekick might have to play elsewhere.
The Trail Blazers’ trade with LA was an admission that their current roster wasn’t up to par. Why else would they deal Powell, who last summer signed a five-year deal for $90 million? Add in the expiring contract of Covington, and Portland is re-thinking much of its roster construction. That could very well mean moving on from McCollum, who the Blazers built their team around along with Lillard.
More importantly, McCollum is suddenly expendable due to the emergence of Anfernee Simons. The 23-year-old is averaging 20.6 points on 45.1% shooting from the field and 39.8% from three-point range in 20 starts. With the rising star Simons set to hit restricted free agency this summer, Portland will need to make sure it has plenty of money to retain him. An easy way to do that is by finding a new home for McCollum, who owns a $33.3 million average salary.
Building around Lillard and Simons feels like the direction Portland wants to move in, especially after clearing out Powell and Covington. If that’s the case, McCollum could have just days left with the only franchise he’s known.
Expect McCollum to have plenty of suitors
While the guard’s time in Portland could be coming to an end, there are plenty of teams willing to add CJ to their backcourt.
Scotto mentions the New Orleans Pelicans and Dallas Mavericks as two of the clubs expected to pursue McCollum. The Pelicans are just behind the Blazers in the West, but could view McCollum as a key piece alongside Brandon Ingram and eventually Zion Williamson.
As for the five-seed Mavericks, they are coveting a true running mate for superstar Luka Doncic. McCollum fits that bill and could be the missing ingredient needed to enter the title conversation.
The Trail Blazers have reached their ceiling and are ready for a re-tool. After Powell and Covington, McCollum looks awfully likely to leave next.