Portland Trail Blazers: 3 reasons trading CJ McCollum has never made sense

CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images) /
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Portland Trail Blazers
Portland Trail Blazers Damian Lillard CJ McCollum (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

No. 1 — It makes no sense for the Portland Trail Blazers to test Lillard’s loyalty

Consider these two statements, and tell me they aren’t cut from the same cloth?

Statement One: “Now everybody wanna play for the heat and the Lakers? Let’s go back to being competitive and going at these peoples!”

Statement Two: “I might have too much pride for that or be too much of a competitor where I couldn’t bring myself to do it, but it also makes it more fun. You get to take a monster down and that’s always fun.”

If you’ve followed the NBA long enough, you’ve likely come across both statements. The first of which comes from Kevin Durant, who questioned the competitiveness of LeBron James and the rest of the NBA’s superstar hierarchy during the controversial 2010 offseason.

The second of which came from Damian Lillard, a few weeks before the start of the 2016-17 statement. Both statements bleed of the same competitive DNA. And, besides being two of the ten best basketball players walking this planet Earth, Lillard and Durant share one similarity:

That same tag Lillard holds today as arguably the most publicly (and privately) loyal player in the Association? Durant once held that, too.

During that same summer that James was villainized for going to Miami, Durant was working a contract that: a) showed his loyalty, since he turned down a popular opt-out clause, b) extended his clause through 2015-16, and, if anything, bolstered his commitment to Oklahoma City. What changed?

Business defeated relationships, and he began to look around. The players he came in with — Jeff Green, James Harden — were gone. He was, as Lillard would say, loyal to the soil.

But those people don’t like to have their loyalty tested.

I don’t think you can compare loyalties or put them on a tier. Lillard’s proven through and through, even in his pre-NBA days that allegiance means the world to him. But say you’re in Portland’s front office. Why even give him anything to take umbrage at?

Lillard and McCollum routinely take to doing duo-interviews, and it’s obvious their tight-knit vibe isn’t a mirage. And, it shows itself on-court, year-after-year. This season’s been a test, yet even so, the two of them have produced a +3.8 net rating in 1,483 minutes together. That’s an on-off swing of 14.2 points.

It’s unclear if these trade demands are reflected by the belief that the Lillard-McCollum tandem is getting worse, but here’s a look at their per 100 possession lineup progression year-to-year, since McCollum’s been a featured option.

2015-16: (+2.8)
2016-17: (+3.5)
2017-18: (+5.4)
2018-19: (+7.2)
2019-20: (+4.0)

Before this year — a year defined by transition and injury — the two of them were improving on an incremental basis. That level of synergy isn’t something that grows on trees, and it isn’t something you’re guaranteed to replicate by flipping McCollum for something fresh.

Last year could’ve very-much-so have been the peak for this group, but I refuse to believe it. Not after watching both Lillard’s improvement this year, and what McCollum was doing post-All-Star break.

Lillard, in particular, will be 30-years-old the next time another NBA season tips off. He’s already watched one elite core crumble around him. It doesn’t seem wise to spin the mystery wheel on doing so again.