Guards were never the most glaring need for the Blazers this offseason, so when Portland selected CJ McCollum with the 10th pick of the 2013 NBA draft, some were left a little disappointed. At the time, the Blazers already had Damian Lillard, Eric Maynor, Wesley Matthews, and Will Barton. Eric Maynor has since signed with the Washington Wizards, but the Blazers added guards Mo Williams, Earl Watson, Allen Crabbe, Terrel Harris, and (of course) CJ McCollum in his stead.
Yikes. McCollum was selected because he was the best player available, not because he filled a specific need, but whatever role he was supposed to have with the Blazers has since diminished substantially. Mo Williams will get most of the minutes behind Damian Lillard, leaving primarily relief minutes behind Wesley Matthews for CJ McCollum. He will be sharing this duty with Barton and Crabbe as well.
This is not at all an ideal situation for a lottery pick. It almost seems wasteful. Scratch that—it is. Barring injury, I can’t envision a likely scenario in which McCollum sees meaningful minutes on the Blazers’ current roster. I foresee the same frustrations from CJ McCollum this season that Minnesota saw from Derrick Williams (drafted 2nd overall in 2011 only to live in Kevin Love’s shadow).
Here’s where I’m going to get bold and, quite probably, ahead of myself. The Blazers have added so much talent in the offseason that they may have to clean house at the February trade deadline in order to capitalize on it. As it stands, 48 minutes per game is simply not enough time to utilize every notable player in their lineup. Since McCollum’s skill set is redundant behind Lillard and Matthews, it may behoove the Blazers to see who else is interested in his services.
I would like to see Portland conglomerate their talent into a tighter core. They are now too deep at shooting guard to operate efficiently and CJ McCollum is the most enticing trade piece among Portland’s guards that don’t comprise the present core. Some sort of 3-for-1 style bundle could help the Blazers tighten up their rotation while adding an impact player at a weaker position (most likely center).
It’s entirely possible that if Portland trades McCollum, they will be missing out on an amazing young talent, but if he is lost to the depths of depth on Portland’s bench, the result remains the same. This is where drafting talent over need can be a problem. However, trade is the built in solution. When you have a coveted piece that is of dwindling use to you, other teams will notice. The Blazers may find themselves in an opportune situation yet.
It’s also possible that if McCollum impresses, Portland will keep him waiting in the wings for a season or two. Mo Williams could opt out after this season, opening up a primary spot at reserve point guard, or Matthews could leave as a free agent in 2015, leaving the starting shooting guard slot vacant. If the Blazers think McCollum is well suited for either of these roles, he may have to wait to find his place.
No matter how you slice it, Portland’s current setup is not structured for CJ’s success. Something will have to change in order for him to see proper playing time.