The Portland Trail Blazers were swept by the New Orleans Pelicans, their second consecutive first-round exit from the postseason. Some of that blame falls on Portland’s best players, but Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are a big reason the team overachieved in the regular season on their way to capturing the No. 3 spot in the Western Conference.
However, are Lillard and McCollum too similar of players to win together in Portland?
After their season ended, McCollum said he was content with the team’s performance and he’s not ready to split from Lillard. He cited the Houston Rockets as an example of two elite guards playing together.
C.J. said the roster was in the hands of front office, and their poor postseason showing was an indicator of the players’ performance and not the roster construction. When he appeared on First Take, McCollum said he needs to improve his playmaking and defense to help the team take the next step. Still, trading McCollum or Lillard might be Portland’s only option for significant improvement.
A recent article from the Ringer asked if it was time to breakup the Blazers. The article points out that both backcourt members struggled in this series versus the Pelicans on both ends of the floor. Portland is also in cap hell, as they already have $110.5 million in guaranteed money for next season. McCollum and Lillard combine for nearly half of that.
With a first-round pick coming in and the need to re-sign rotational players like Ed Davis, the Blazers are looking at paying the luxury tax if they stay put.
Trading Lillard or McCollum could help Portland move around the bloated contracts of Evan Turner ($17.87 million salary in 2018-19), Moe Harkless ($10.84 million salary in 2018-19), or Meyers Leonard ($10.60 million salary in 2018-19). They also have last year’s rookies Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan, who have value as first-rounders from last year. Plus, a trade exception for $13 million that expires in July, so they have assets to trade with a developing team or contender.
Nonetheless, Lillard is the player on the roster with three All-Star games, State Farm endorsements, signature shoes, and a rap career. He is the face of the franchise and everything surrounding the team proves that.
Further, Lillard met with Blazers owner Paul Allen to seek assurance that the team was building a contender earlier this year. Lillard has said that he wants to spend his career in Portland. In the past, he said that the city fits him and it would mean more for him to win a ring with the Blazers than anywhere else. Even after getting swept by the Pelicans, Lillard said he thinks the team can win in the postseason. Lillard disagreed with the notion that he and McCollum need to be split up, too.
However, moving McCollum could get them the help they need on the wings to compete for a title. Blazers GM Neil Oshey killed the narrative of trading either player around the deadline since both are entering their prime and are friends off the court, but that could change with another postseason exit behind them.
At the NBA Combine, Olshey said he felt the team was too conservative at the NBA trade deadline and throughout the draft. Could that strategy change by dealing one of his All-Star guards? It is possible Olshey might be more willing to deal one of his guards more than the other.
McCollum’s deal is movable and he hasn’t missed more than two games the past three seasons. He’s running more than any other player in each of the last three seasons, too. His movement with and without the ball make him a fit in virtually any offense.
McCollum is also active in the community as evident by him receiving the NBA Cares Community Assist Award in March. He’s tough, too. Not only did he drop 38 in a playoff loss; just check out the scuffle he started to try and light a fire underneath his team. McCollum hit 15-of-22 from the floor and 2-of-3 from beyond the arc in his final contest of the 2017-18 season as well.
The 26-year-old averaged 21.4 points, 3.4 assists, 4 rebounds, and 1 steal per game last year while boasting 17.2 point, 2.9 assist, 3 rebound, and .9 steal career averages. Here are eight deals the Blazers should consider for McCollum if they do open the phone lines this offseason.
8. Get Marc Gasol
This trade doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Blazers. Why would they trade for a 33-year-old center that has dealt with injuries? Not only has Gasol been injured, but it appears that the NBA is moving away from bruising centers like him in favor of centers who are more athletic. Portland is also very found of Collins, so this trade would hinder his role.
However, the Grizzlies are stuck in the sucken place due to their commitments to Michael Conley and Chandler Parsons. They might be willing to take on one of the Blazers bad contracts in addition to McCollum. Portland can add Harkless or Leonard and Memphis can add the expiring contracts of JaMichael Green and/or Ben McLemore around the nucleus of this deal.
It is also possible that Portland could find a way to finesse the Grizzlies out of that No. 4 overall draft pick too. If the Blazers can get Gasol and the No. 4 pick for McCollum, the No. 24 pick, and Zach Collins, maybe the Grizzlies consider it. There is no telling if the No. 4 pick will turn into a stud like McCollum, but the Grizzlies might be better off taking their chances.
At the very least, these teams should talk about the possibilities of making a swap.
7. Send C.J. to the Knicks
Yes, New York always finds a way to put themselves into trade conversations. If C.J. becomes available, the Knicks better make a call.
They can offer the Blazers a guy like Enes Kantar. Kantar gives Portland a legit stretch big who can also slow down the game. He also plays with a swagger that might mesh well with Lillard.
Frank Ntilikina would give the Blazers a backup point guard who is a capable defender, athlete, and playmaker. He would allow Lillard to play off ball when the two play together, and the 2017 No. 8 pick can also give the second unit a boost.
As for the Knicks, they get a star scorer in McCollum and a high-energy big in Swanigan. The move might not make either team much better, but it certainly shakes up the structure of both rosters. New York might have to add some cash and picks for Portland to really make this deal happen.
6. Fix the Kawhi mess
If Kawhi Leonard does become available, expect the Blazers to make a run. They have the star power to make the move if they are willing to deal Lillard or McCollum. Plus, the Blazers can send some younger prospects to help the Spurs continue their re-tool in the post-Kawhi era.
As constructed, this deal is probably not enough to entice the Spurs to move. However, Meyers Leonard is a younger stretch center that the Spurs could seamlessly integrate into their scheme, and Swanigan is a high energy player. McCollum would pair with DeJounte Murray for a formidable backcourt. The Blazers might also have to include Collins, some cash, and this year’s No. 24 pick.
However, that is still a fair price for Leonard, who is an MVP candidate when healthy. Kawhi Leonard is the two-way player that compliments Lillard on both sides of the floor. He can guard other team’s best players as well as distribute, score, and shoot. That is exactly what Portland has missed at the wing position the past few seasons. Gasol isn’t a bad veteran throw-in to make the salaries work, either.
5. Clippers get a star
The Clippers need a star in the post-Lob City era, and McCollum could be their guy. That would demand that DeAndre Jordan opts into the final year of his contract, or the two sides agree to some sort of sign-and-trade.
Portland doesn’t have the cap space to sign Jordan outright in free agency but they were rumored to be interested in him at the deadline. Jordan gives Portland a defensive presence in the middle that they lack, and he’s deadly in the pick-and-roll. This deal could even get completed around Tobias Harris if Jordan doesn’t want to end up with the Blazers.
Still, Jordan or Harris straight up for McCollum is probably not enough. Jordan is on the wrong side of thirty and Harris might not push the Blazers over the edge. Therefore, the Clippers would have to sweeten the deal by throwing in one of those late lottery picks to get McCollum.
In fact, Portland might command both of those picks if the Clippers are really desperate. Are the No. 12 and 13 picks with a contract like Danilo Gallinari enough to get C.J. McCollum? Perhaps if the Blazers wants to completely rebuild.
4. Harrison Barnes swap
Here is a deal that the Ringer suggested in their piece. Harrison Barnes would give the Blazers a two-way guy at the three position as well as some championship experience. He isn’t too much older than McCollum and he can slide into the four position, too.
McCollum gives the Mavericks a two-guard young enough to build around with Dennis Smith Jr. Again, some cash and draft picks might be needed on the Mavs’ end to make this happen. It is probably a lateral move for both teams.
3. C.J. to Miami
Again, here is an idea borrowed from the Ringer. Hasaan Whiteside appears to need a fresh start from Miami. Portland might take Whiteside’s size, defense, rebounding, and post game in hopes that it gives them some mismatches.
The Heat get McCollum’s scoring and spacing. It makes sense if both teams are looking for a change, but Miami would have to throw in some youth at the wing, like Winslow, to make this deal happen. Both teams might exchange some big contracts if they really want to make a blockbuster happen, too.
2. McCollum to the Land
C.J. makes sense for the Cavaliers regardless of whether LeBron James stays or goes. McCollum is the type of off-ball shooter that thrives around LeBron, and he is also on the right side of 30 which is refreshing for the King.
Even if LeBron leaves, McCollum is a scoring threat that might dominate the Eastern Conference. Just look at what Victor Oladipo has done since he moved back to the East.
On the other side, Portland gets Kevin Love’s championship experience, post game, passing, shooting, and rebounding, all things that they’re lacking. Not to mention, Love would be beloved by the Blazers since he grew up in the state of Oregon.
Portland would bank on Love improving with far less pressure on him outside of Cleveland. His outlet passes could help the Blazers continue to push the tempo, and his post game could help them when games slow down. The pick-and-pop with Lillard would be amazing, too.
Ultimately, this trade makes sense for both teams straight up. Picks and bad contracts could get added, but this nucleus is enough to get the discussion started.
1. C.J. for Beal swap
Straight-up, Bradley Beal for C.J. McCollum. Who says no?
Both players are half of star backcourts that haven’t seen a ton of playoff success. They’re both elite shooters and two guards. Age and contract are virtually the same. One is in the East and the other is in the West.
If we’re splitting hairs, you could argue that Beal is a little bigger and McCollum is faster/quicker. Beal also has more playing time without John Wall than McCollum has without Lillard, which means Beal may have more appeal as a No. 1 option. Either way, the trade makes sense for two teams that are desperate to mix it up so they can become real threats in their respective conferences.
Will C.J. McCollum get traded?
Nonetheless, McCollum only makes a couple of million less than Lillard through each of the next few seasons, and both are on the books until 2020-21. That means the team might be best off giving the duo one more year together and decide what to do after that.
Lillard and McCollum have gotten better together each season and Portland might bank on them continuing the ascension after being the No. 3 seed in the playoffs. Regardless, there are plenty of options worth considering.
If the Blazers decide to change the direction of their team by dealing one of their guards, they will have plenty of trade suitors. Trading McCollum makes the most sense considering the team is already constructed around Lillard. Plus, McCollum is the type of player that more easily assimilates into another roster.
Stay posted as we get closer to the draft. It only takes one amazing deal for the Blazers to change the shape of their roster by sending McCollum elsewhere.