There are always whispers and rumblings, and Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum is aware of them. In the two years before this one, Portland has carved out an identity as a pretty good offensive team and a so-so defensive team, and the results have been predictable. The Trail Blazers won 41 games last year on their way to a postseason spot, and 44 games in 2015-16, when they slipped into the second round of the playoffs by knocking off an injury-battered Clippers team. That’s led to speculation that Portland, over the salary cap and sitting on two years of hefty contracts for Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless ($39 million for the trio next year, and $41 million in 2019-20), would eventually have to deal either McCollum or fellow star guard Damian Lillard in order to diversify the roster. The pair is signed through 2021, slated to make $50-60 million per year combined. It’s not easy to build a true contender with half the available cap space spent on guards, but it’s where the Blazers are now. But McCollum is not so sure we’ve seen the best from this Portland bunch. "Everyone has a right to their own opinion," McCollum told Sporting News. "I think that we live in an era where the art of the unknown scares people. But I think, consistently, we have won. Obviously, we haven’t won a championship, but we have made the playoffs four straight years in the Western Conference. We made it to the second round — this is only our third full season playing together." It’s only the first full season together for the Blazer backcourt alongside center Jusuf Nurkic, acquired last February in a trade from Denver. Before Portland determines what to do with the Lillard-McCollum combination — any change that big will come much later — it must decide on the fate of Nurkic, a restricted free agent this summer. Without another roster move, the Blazers will be only about $10 million under the luxury tax, making Nurkic a difficult signing. Yet Portland is in position for one of its best finishes in years, which makes the next few weeks crucial. This has been a franchise struggling to establish its identity since LaMarcus Aldridge left in the summer of 2015, and the close of this season offers a good opportunity for the Blazers to raise themselves in the mix of West teams, and perhaps solidify the status of the Nurkic-McCollum-Lillard trio as the team’s foundation.
Trail Blazers' stretch run will go long way in determining commitment to current core
Sporting News | Mar 1