In 8 years with the Portland Trail Blazers, star guard CJ McCollum has established himself as a reliable contributor for the team, boasting a career average of 18.9 points per game on 45% shooting.
So far, the Blazers have avoided giving up on the McCollum/Lillard tandem, preferring instead to surround the pair with pieces they feel will make an ideal fit.
But now, in the aftermath of a tense summer for Portland, rumors about McCollum's departure have reached an all-time high.
In a chat with NBC Sports Northwest, he responded to the noise:
“I think the same way I always do, man,” McCollum said. “I control what I can control – continue to work on my game, continue to take advantage of my summers, try to improve… And show up and do your job.
It’s going to be what it’s going to be at the end of the day. I’m happy in my situation. I’ve been able to continue to figure out ways to improve and help us make the playoffs eight straight years, six straight years as a starter and I look forward to the challenge of trying to get back to the playoffs this upcoming season.”
Naturally, the Blazers are considered underdogs this upcoming season, just like they have been for the past 8 years.
Many fans and analysts have clamored for the Blazers to trade CJ and try something new -- but the 29-year-old is convinced that he and Dame can co-exist.
“We’ve been talking about the importance of comradery, obviously chemistry,” McCollum explained. “Dame [Lillard] and I have played together for so long, we understand how to co-exist together, but it’s just more so focusing in on the defensive end.
We’ve been a top 5, top 10 offensive team for basically all our career and now it’s time to focus our attention on that side of the ball to make some more strides and try to make a run this season."
As CJ noted, the key for Portland is figuring out how to improve on the defensive end. They've been among the worst in the league in that category for years now, and it'll be hard for them to take a step up in the West unless they figure out how to slow down their competitors.
This upcoming campaign could be their last chance to get their act together.