By Joshua M Hicks (@jhicks042)
The 2020 NBA All-Star weekend highlighted basketball’s brightest stars this past weekend in Chicago, but plenty of more notable athletes from the league made the trip to the Windy City as well.
Among the many visitors was Portland Trailblazers guard CJ McCollum, who stands firmly among the best current NBA players to haven’t have made an all-star team.
Beyond just enjoying the sights at the biggest hoops convention there is, McCollum also showed his skills as a host by moderating a discussion panel conducted by Players Media Group promoting its new PlayersTV endeavor in partnership with Samsung TV Plus. McCollum spoke with WARR Media last Friday during the event at downtown’s Tavern Club.
While being present in the city where Michael Jordan built his legacy, McCollum discussed his love for the city of Chicago.
“[Chicago] means a lot to me,” McCollum said. “I enjoy the city a lot. Obviously, the history of it. There are so many different franchises here and one of the best players of all time played here in Michael Jordan so I enjoy my time here.”
Most often, McCollum comes to Chicago to play against the hometown Bulls and the Portland sharpshooter seems to enjoy putting the ball up in the United Center, where he and the Blazers have a 5-0 record since his first trip here in 2014.
Excusing his very first trip, in which he only played two minutes, McCollum has averaged 21 points and 5 rebounds on 50 percent shooting from the field and 38% shooting from the 3-point stripe, which is around his current overall average, in Chicago and that’s not including one of his very best performances overall, which came against the Bulls in January 2018 where McCollum scored 50 in three quarters in a rout in Portland.
McCollum’s high profile teammate, Damian Lillard, has been on a tear as of late, averaging 30 points and 8 assists a game overall and dropping 40-plus points in six of the last 12 games and 30-plus points in 13 of the last 22 games since the turn of the year.
After straining his groin just prior to the break, Dame Dolla had to sit out from the All-Star Game, but he was still able to participate by performing a musical appearance during Saturday night of the league’s festivities, but he could not play in the All-Star game he was selected to play in.
Lillard remains day-to-day and is not expected to make a quick return, which means that for the moment McCollum exists as the go-to person and leader of the Blazers. The 2016 Most Improved Player of the year understands the importance of taking on the challenge in leading this team toward an upcoming intense playoff push during Lillard’s absence.
“We only got 26 games left so we’re all going to have to step up with Dame potentially being out,” McCollum said. “Hopefully he can get back as soon as possible. We’re competing for the No. 8 spot in the West and we are going to have our hands full.”
Portland went to the Western Conference Finals last season before being swept by the Kevin Durant-less Warriors. This season, the team has struggled scoring the ball, especially with the absence of Rodney Hood due to a torn Achillies he suffered earlier this season.
To aid the scoring load between Lillard and McCollum, the team brought in future Hall of Famer Carmelo Anthony, who was a free agent entering the season after arguably being blackballed out of the league for the past two years. Since his return to the court, Melo has averaged 15 points a game as the Blazers’ third offensive option. But most importantly, he brings a presence on and off the court that has helped keep the team afloat and confident. McCollum addressed the impact Melo has made since his arrival in Portland.
“[Melo] has had a good impact on the Blazers,” McCollum said. “Another veteran guy, obviously, who has helped us with his scoring but more so his presence in the locker room. Being able to be around the young guys and kind of help us; his storytelling and become our friends.”
Currently, on the other side of its trade deadline, it is buyout season within the NBA. Although he is currently not under contract that can lead to buyout discussions, free agent Jamal Crawford is available to all league teams and he exists as a proven veteran point guard that can help playoff/championship contenders in the postseason.
With Lillard expected out for a period of time, Crawford could be a valuable asset to aid McCollum in the backcourt, especially since he has prior experience with the team during his time in Portland from 2011-12. McCollum praises Crawford for his skillset and vouches his belief that Crawford should still be in the league today.
“I like Jamal. He absolutely deserves to be back in the league and should’ve been in the league to start the season,” McCollum stated. “I’m a big fan of him. I love his game. I feel like it is a disservice that he is not playing right now.”
Like Melo, Crawford has the chance to come back in the league and show the world he still can play and help teams win games if an opportunity presents itself. Could that opportunity come from the Trailblazers? McCollum says that he is not involved with that decision, but supports the idea of potentially play with Crawford if the opportunity presented itself.
“[The decision] is above my paygrade but I’m always down for guys like him being able to come back, especially in a situation like Portland,” McCollum said.
Crawford finished last season averaging 8 points and 4 assists a game, while notably scoring 51 points the final game of the season.
Joshua M. Hicks is a Senior Writer for WARR Media