The Portland Trail Blazers have been the NBA’s most disappointing team this season. They enter Friday’s game against the Washington Wizards at 14-21, losers of five straight and ninth in the Western Conference.
Earlier this week, those unanticipated struggles prompted rumors about Portland’s supposed interest in trading C.J. McCollum. One problem: The tweet that sparked them was later confirmed as a hoax.
But widespread discussion about McCollum potentially being moved has persisted nonetheless. Even discounting the baseless intel that led to it, any talk about the Blazers trading their star guard – this season, at least – ignores crucial context.
McCollum signed a three-year, $100 million extension with Portland on July 30. League rules prevent players with new contracts from being traded until six months after they put pen to paper. As a result, McCollum can’t be dealt until Jan. 30.
There’s nothing keeping front offices from discussing possible trades involving players who can’t be traded. It would be remiss if chief decision-makers and their underlings didn’t at least give passing consideration to most every trade scenario imaginable, too.
But the timing and team-building constraints surrounding any potential McCollum deal make a trade this season extremely unlikely nonetheless.
Portland will have exactly one week to move McCollum before the trade deadline passes on Feb. 6. More importantly, trading him then would leave the Blazers without their most attractive trade asset before they know the long-term viability of their core.
Jusuf Nurkic, remember, hasn’t played since last March following a devastating compound fracture to his left leg. He’s slated to return after the All-Star break.
Would general manager Neil Olshey really be comfortable cashing in on McCollum’s value before his team gains a better understanding of Nurkic’s ability to make a full recovery? No way.
For years, Olshey has remained steadfast that Portland has never entertained the idea of trading McCollum. He reiterated as much when McCollum and Damian Lillard signed tandem extensions that keep them with the Blazers through 2023-24.
Still, there’s only a small handful of players in the league who are genuinely untouchable, and McCollum’s not among them. Lillard isn’t, either. But he’s not just a living legend in Portland, he’s also an objectively superior player to his longtime backcourt partner.
If the Blazers decide a team led by Lillard and McCollum can’t win a title, it’s always been clear that the latter would be the one moved first.
Portland’s rash of injuries allows for the luxury of not admitting that reality yet. But even if that weren’t the case, it would be challenging for Olshey to work a trade that would address the Blazers’ weaknesses while vaulting them up the championship hierarchy.
Portland needs an impact wing who can create offense, knock down open shots, and at least avoid being dominated defensively by opposing superstars. That type of player is both exceedingly rare and a highly sought after commodity.
It’s not like the LA Clippers will wake up one day this month and decide Paul George is a poor fit next to Kawhi Leonard. And even if he or a wing of similar esteem suddenly became available, a package centered around McCollum and the Blazers’ other trade assets would probably be beaten by competing suitors.
There could very well come a time when Portland bites the bullet and decides to make McCollum available. It’s almost certainly not happening this season, though. And when it does, finding a deal that makes sense for both the Blazers and their trade partner will prove an almost impossible task.