Morning shootaround — Aug. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

CJ McCollum feels blessed | GM feels Blazers on right track | Colangelo anxious for Team USA

No. 1: CJ McCollum feels blessed — The Portland Trail Blazers are feeling great about themselves after a very uplifting season and CJ McCollum shares that sentiment. Not only is McCollum rapidly rising among the ranks of young guards, he just signed a four-year, $106 million extension this summer, so life is good. Not only is McCollum just touching his prime, he has a great relationship with backcourt mate Damian Lillard and the franchise. Here’s Joe Freeman of the Oregonian getting the goods from McCollum and his new fortune:

“I’m just thankful to be in this position, first and foremost. I want to thank Neil for having that patience and that trust in me. I want to thank Mr. (Paul) Allen for taking a chance on a 6-foot-3 skinny kid from Lehigh University and being patient as I was hurt early on. I was breaking fingers and not consistent with my performance. But I was consistent with my work ethic throughout. But thank you guys.

“I told (my agent) before, I said, ‘Do whatever you have to do to get me to stay here.’ I want to be here. I’ve been looking at houses since my rookie year, kind of picturing myself here for the long-term, so I’m thankful for the opportunity and looking forward to building something special with this young core group of guys we have. I think we’re going to be very good. We have a lot of work ethic, a lot of guys who were unproven, had one year of success and are looking forward to continuing to have success and continuing to kind of building a lasting legacy in the NBA. I think that’s the type of attitude all our players have, starting with Dame, a guy who’s come from a small school, who’s earned everything he’s received and looks forward to continue to build and to continue to win.

After a breakout season and signing this big contract, what will motivate and drive you moving forward?

“The biggest thing is just continuing to strive for greatness. I think that’s kind of my mindset. I want to continue to get better. I know there’s a lot of areas I can improve on, having only played, what, 80 regular season games. This was my first full season of understanding scouting reports, understanding that I’m actually on the scouting report now instead of being the guy, ‘Huh, he’s the backup and he can shoot.’ That’s kind of how the scouting report went for a lot of teams. So understanding now that the role is going to increase, the pressure is going to increase and I look forward to the challenge of continuing to represent my last name to the best of my ability, represent coming from a small school, continuing to try to keep that pipeline open for the next guy that plays like CJ McCollum and might have been undersized or not had a position in college.”

How do you keep underdog attitude now that you’ve signed a $106 million contract?

“That’s a good question. I think it’s how you’re wired. I think the money is circumstantial, it doesn’t change you. A lot of times it changes the people around you, it puts them in better position to succeed. It allows you to buy things you need and want. It allows you to kind of uplift people who need help. But for me, I already have money. I’m already in a good situation. Obviously I don’t have generational wealth. But I’m already in the top 2 percent. Now I move up to the 1 percent. But from the standpoint of basketball, this is what we love to do. We play for free all our lives. And a lot of guys would play for free at this point, just because of what the game means to them. You look at rec centers, you look at old man leagues, they’re playing, barely getting up and down the court. But they love the game. And that’s the kind of passion I have for the game. I told the story about the little kid coming to the game and being able to say he played for the first time and you want to impact his life and you want him to leave the gym saying, ‘Wow, CJ goes hard. He cares about the game. He loves basketball.'”

Can you elaborate on what you like about the team heading into next season?

“I think we have a little bit of everything. You look at the roster, the way we put different pieces together, bringing in Festus (Ezeli), a guy who has championship-level experience defensively, impacts the game right way. Can hedge ball screens. Can do a lot of things we’re not accustomed to. Then you look at (Mason) Plumlee, a big who can handle the ball, can initiate the offense, can kind of serve as our defacto point guard a lot of times in situations where Dame and I were getting trapped. Bringing back (Allen Crabbe) was big, a guy who can knock down shots, defend high-level wings. Bringing in Evan Turner, a versatile wing, who can pass, play-make, play on the ball, and I think he’ll be an improved three-point shooter. So we brought back Moe (Harkless), we brought back Meyers (Leonard), we brought back a lot of young guys who are thirsty, thirsty to get better, thirsty to prove that the success wasn’t a fluke, thirsty to prove they’re worth what they are getting. A lot of guys are looking forward to the challenge of, like Neil said before, exceeding expectations again and continuing to win and build. Because we care about the city, we care about where we come from, we care about what we represent. And I think that’s what you get, guys who are team-first.”

he day you actually signed your contract, did you have flashbacks to growing up and all the work you put into getting here?

“Yeah. My girlfriend kept asking me: ‘Are you happy?’ I was like, ‘I won’t be happy until I sign.’ Laughs. Because you’re programmed to continue to try to get better, to get more, don’t get content. And I just kind of blocked it out. And then when you start reading about it, then you get a little more excited. I did a little dance. Besides that, I just like to work out, I like to get better, I don’t like to get content. So I just try not to think about the money and try to think about the pressure, just because it’s a game I played since I was a kid and I tried to not talk the fun away from it. When you take the fun away from it, it becomes a job. When it’s a job, it feels like you’re forced to go. I’m not forced to go. I enjoy going. I love it. So I was happy about it, we celebrated, we had a nice meal, a little bit of pinot.”

Oregon pinot?

“Yeah. How do you say it: Willamette? Willamette. (Laughs) I’ll get it right eventually. She paid, too.”

Now that you have a contract and longevity here, does that increase your need to be a leader?

“I think from a leadership standpoint, you don’t just, ‘Oh, he got paid, he’s a leader now.’ I think you just have to continue to be who you are. And that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to be myself. When I see something and I think something should be said, I’m going to say it. Not because I just signed for $100 million, but because I think that’s the right thing to say. I think leaders are born. You develop as a leader; you don’t just appoint somebody. So for me, I just have to continue to build off what I’ve done to this point. When it’s time to lead, I’ll lead. When it’s time to follow, I’ll follow. But there’s not a rule or a saying to where he signed for $75 million, so he’s the third leader. I just go hoop and I’m not afraid to take advice from, say, Luis (Montero), who, no offense, is at the bottom of the depth chart right now. I’ll listen to anyone if it can help me.”

How would you compare your state of mind now to when you were injured and rehabbing your broken foot?

“You just stay paranoid. That’s the biggest thing. because there’s so much can happen. You look at the window of us trading for Arron Afflalo to me going to the bench, to Wes (Matthews) tearing his Achilles. I just try to be thankful and understand that anything can happen at any given time. So just stay paranoid and put your work in, knowing that there’s a guy on our bench, on somebody else’s bench coming up, that’s looking at you as a target, (thinking), ‘I want what he has.’ So I just continue to work and understand that I’ve got to put that same work in as when I was getting DNPs. Now that I’m a starter and established in the league after one year, I have to put that same work in and have that same work ethic. … I have to continue to remember what it felt like when I didn’t play. What it felt like when you show up the arena knowing you’re not going to play. Now that I know I’m going to play, when I get there, I have to have that same mindset and continue to take my game to the next level.”

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No. 2: GM feels Blazers are on right track — These are good times in Portland. The two main players are now locked in long-term contracts after McCollum inked his extension this week. The Blazers had a rousing and unexpected run in the playoffs this summer and have a solid and relatively young core with a decent salary cap situation. Much of this is due to general manager Neil Olshey, who helped the team overcome the loss of four starters two summers ago. He recently spoke to Joe Freeman of the Oregonian on the state of the club:

From signing free agents Evan Turner and Festus Ezeli, to retaining restricted free agents Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe and Moe Harkless, to rewarding CJ McCollum with a contract extension, Olshey has carefully made the moves necessary to keep Portland among the Western Conference’s most competitive teams.

“Player retention was big this summer,” Olshey explained during a press conference Friday. “We did what we could in terms of free agency, bringing in skill sets more than players – skill sets from the outside. But at the end of the day when you’re the youngest team in the playoffs last year, you made the second round, we had a much better second half of the year than we did the first half, we felt like we were tracking up … it was imperative we keep this group together because we think it has tremendous upside and potential and it’s going to continue to grow.”

What was the advantage of doing this now?

(Laughs) “The advantage is that we now have a five-year commitment from CJ. More than anything, he earned it. One of the things we’re trying to establish here is that we take care of our players. Sometimes being in a market that is somewhat removed geographically from the core of other areas of the league, I think we end up in situation where it’s really important that players know when they come here, they’re treated well. And that’s not just with the resources we’re lucky enough to have because of an owner like Paul Allen and practice facility and travel and coaches and the expertise we have in the training room. But it’s also contractually. We want guys to know that when they come here, when they perform, that when they buy into our culture, that they are valued. And we want to make sure that we keep the guys that want to be here. We’ve talked about that all summer. CJ wanted to be here. When Dame (signed an extension), Dame wanted to be here. That’s why you see the chemistry on the floor. We don’t have mercenaries here. We have guys that choose to be here, buy into Terry’s system, buy into our culture and how we do things. It’s why we’re very selective with the kind of guys we bring in, whether it’s via trade, draft or free agency. Because we do have a culture that we really think is imperative to success. We have one of the youngest teams in the league still. We were the youngest team in the playoffs last summer. We didn’t get any older this year. We need guys that, when they come in, they know that if they do the right things, we’re going to do right by them.

“Also, look, strategically, you want to know you have consistency. We don’t want guys playing in contract years if they don’t have to. I don’t want that hanging over anybody’s head. I want it to be pure and about winning basketball games and competing at the highest level and for the good of the team. We talk about this all the time; we’re a players-first organization. As evidence by things we do for our players. But in turn, the quid pro quo is, they become team-first guys. And I think if you ask Dame and you ask CJ, who are the leaders of this team, we don’t have any non team-first guys in the organization. If we did, they’d be gone. Because that’s the culture we’re building, it’s why we overachieved last year and it’s why we’ll probably overachieve relative to expectations this year.”

Thoughts on what impact signing such a lucrative contract will have on McCollum:

“Just to piggyback on your question about the money with CJ. Just as an organization, we wouldn’t have given this kind of money to anybody we thought was about the money. I think when you look at the guys we have, there wasn’t one ounce of reticence about the amount of money we spent this summer. We’re blessed to have Paul as an owner that wanted to be aggressive, wanted to retain all of our players, wanted to maximize all of our cap room. But they were all guys that we know are going to walk into the gym no different than they did Day 1 as rookies, based on their approach to the game, the substance of their character, the way that they treat the game, the way they treat their teammates, the respect that they have for themselves and the organization. Any player that would be about the money, we wouldn’t be about. So I don’t think CJ is any different — or AC or Meyers or anybody else — other than I think the parking lot in front of building, I don’t know how good my 2012 (Toyota) Highlander is going to look our there this summer. But I have a feeling that the bar might be a little raised. But other than that, I know that our here, with Terry and the coaches, the same level of effort and commitment and respect for the game, is going to continue to exist absent any new contract information.”

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No. 3: Colangelo anxious for Team USA — When he began working with Team USA, Jerry Colangelo had a hunch that it would add a satisfying chapter to a basketball career that was mainly rooted in Phoenix with the Suns. He had no idea. And now, with the Olympics ready to begin, Colangelo was feeling fortunate that he found something just as fulfilling as, if not more than, his time as a team executive and franchise part-owner. Colangelo recently spoke with collaborator Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic on the team as it prepares for Rio:

Never mind the NBA championship ring that has eluded him for nearly 50 years. Basketball has been very good to Jerry Colangelo.

The Valley icon has made sure to return the favor.

He helped launch the Bulls and buy the Suns. His name is on the court at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. And on the eve of his third Olympic tour as chairman of USA Basketball, Colangelo has restored the glory to Team USA.

With one unintended consequence.

“When we put this whole thing together back in 2006, we had no idea that players were going to connect with each other the way they have,” Colangelo said.

ranslation: The current trend sweeping the NBA, where star free agents are teaming up with other star players, choosing friendships and working conditions over everything else, much to the chagrin of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver?

It all began with Colangelo’s early work with Team USA, when he recruited marquee names to an idea gone stale. He convinced the NBA’s best players to give back to Olympic basketball, to play for zero compensation and forgo their summers.

Most of them had no idea how fun it would be.

I witnessed this phenomenon from behind the scenes in Beijing, where LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony talked openly about collaborating in the near future, joining forces with some lucky NBA franchise. They often joked and laughed about the possibilities.

Shortly thereafter, James, Wade and Chris Bosh teamed up to play together in Miami, officially ushering in the age of empowerment in the NBA, where free agents no longer play by the same rules. They don’t feel wedded to the city that drafted them. They don’t feel overwhelming loyalty to a fan base or a cause. They don’t need to climb the highest mountain, carrying a team on their shoulders. They value the collective experience, the path of least resistance.

“The camaraderie was really neat to see, by the way,” Colangelo said. “Don’t assume all the players know each other intimately. They don’t. But when you’re together for a month, you get to really know a person and relationships are formed. And that’s what took place.

“When you look at the economics of pro basketball, the money is so great in terms of salary. The contracts being paid out today are over the top, but that’s what the system allows, and that’s a reflection of how well the league is doing financially. But the reality is, players are not going to be leaving for the money in most cases. Players are looking for what they want in terms of location, where they fit in and where they have the best chance to win.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jimmy Butler believes his former coach Tom Thibodeau will do just fine in Minnesota  … New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had some interesting things to say about the NBA’s decision to move the All-Star Game from Charlotte … The debate about the Sixers and their abundance of bigs continues on, and the Philly media just can’t get enough.

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