The dismissal of Trail Blazers head of basketball operations Neil Olshey could have a real impact on the future of guard CJ McCollum, whom Olshey valued especially highly.
Under Olshey’s leadership, the Blazers were extremely resistant to moving McCollum, even though he looked like the most obvious trade candidate if the team sought to make a splash and acquire another star to complement Damian Lillard.
In the wake of Olshey’s firing, McCollum’s top advocate within the organization is gone. And a report on Monday suggested that Lillard would like to see the club acquire Ben Simmons to improve its defense — such a deal would likely require McCollum’s inclusion.
Asked by Jason Quick of The Athletic about whether Lillard’s push for roster upgrades – possibly at McCollum’s expense – has put a strain on their relationship at all, McCollum said he remains close with his longtime backcourt partner.
“Me and Dame have a good relationship,” McCollum said. “I think when Dame speaks, you hear him. When you hear ‘sources’ and ‘anonymous,’ I don’t necessarily know if that is Dame or not, because it’s not Dame putting his name on it. He generally puts his name on things. I know where he stands with me, and he knows where I stand with him. The organization, they need to do what is best for themselves.
“… If he wanted me to leave, I think he would say that. He’s not speaking on me behind closed doors because that’s not in his DNA. He’s not built like that. He’s solid, and I know his word is his bond.”
McCollum admitted that it has been a tough season so far. The 11-14 Blazers are off to a slow start, and the 30-year-old guard’s numbers are down — his 20.6 PPG is his lowest mark since 2014/15 and his .424 FG% would be the second-worst shooting rate of his career. McCollum said that he and his wife are expecting their first child in a matter of weeks, which has diverted his focus away from the court at times.
McCollum stressed that it’s not in his character to “run from” adversity, but acknowledged that he isn’t oblivious to rumors about the Blazers potentially making changes to their roster after having overhauled their coaching staff and front office this year. He spoke to Quick about a handful of topics in a discussion that’s worth checking out in full if you’re an Athletic subscriber. Here are some of the highlights:
On his first impressions of head coach Chauncey Billups, including Billups’ willingness to call out the Blazers’ players if he’s not happy with their effort:
“I like Chauncey. I like his approach. I think he’s approaching things the right way. He’s not a guy who thinks he knows it all. I think he’s approaching things the right way — asking for feedback, asking questions, and he’s holding himself accountable, which is important. It’s on us to be better, and he has stated that.”
On Olshey’s exit from the franchise:
“It was tough, unfortunate. Neil is a good friend of mine, obviously. He was someone who had faith in me, trust and belief in me, and I was in a solid position. I mean, a GM of a franchise, having been in the NBA a long time … it was just unfortunate that the situation occurred, and what happened in the investigation. I mean, obviously, they found something that was worthy of letting him go, which is not ideal. But it was tough.”
On the general upheaval within the organization:
“This is different than anything I’ve ever experienced because of the circumstances. This is the first year of my career where we lost our whole coaching staff, brought in a new coach, a new staff, the GM gets fired in the middle of the season … all of that affects you on the court. But there is no excuses. I didn’t come here to tell you ‘There’s a lot of s–t going on’ … but yeah, there is. There’s s–t going on — every day. And I’m a f—ing human being. But look, at the end of the day, my job is to play basketball. So I go play basketball.”
On whether he feels less certain about his future in Portland with Olshey gone:
“That’s a question for somebody else. I just do my job: show up for work and do my job.”