New Orleans had long been the most aggressive trade suitor for CJ McCollum, but Portland was patient (and leaked some other teams out there to light a fire under David Griffin).
It all worked, and Tuesday the trade went down. The Pelicans got their man (plus a quality addition in Larry Nance Jr.) and the Trail Blazers got under the tax while taking more steps toward rebuilding a contending roster around Damian Lillard.
Let’s break down the winners and losers from this deal. As a reminder, that trade is:
The Pelicans receive: CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., Tony Snell
The Trail Blazers receive: Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada, 2022 protected first-round pick (Portland gets it this year if it is pick 6-14, it is currently projected as ninth), two second-round picks.
WINNER: NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
I need to clarify the “winner” designation: Winner in that they accomplish their internal goal of getting better this season and now almost certainly making the play-in tournament (and if you’re GM David Griffin, doing things that save your job). New Orleans is also a winner in that it could have a pretty interesting offensive roster whenever Zion Williamson gets healthy and back to form. Are they winners in long-term team building? No. But when was the last time the Pelicans thought long term?
The Pelican’s offense has been the Brandon Ingram show — when he is on the court they have a top-10 offense in the league (112.1 offensive rating), when he sits they have a bottom-five offense (105 offensive rating). McCollum fixes that. He is a bucket getter — the kind the Pelicans thought Devonte' Graham would be for them— and he and Ingram can learn to play off each other. Coach Willie Green can stagger their minutes to keep the offense humming.
Also, McCollum should be a good fit playing with Zion down the line. They could have interesting two-man actions (a dribble hand-off play where Zion has the ball?) and McCollum is a good catch-and-shoot guard who will keep the floor spaced.
What puts this trade over the top for New Orleans is getting Larry Nance Jr., a quality two-way wing who can come off the bench, play good defense, get a few buckets and give them depth on the wing the team lacked.
There are issues here — a Graham and McCollum backcourt is going to be the same undersized problem Portland had, and the rest of the roster is not loaded with defenders to help out — but the Pelicans are better and are in position to reach their goal of the postseason. We’ll call that a win.
WINNER: Anfernee Simons
The runway is cleared for the Trail Blazers breakout star to become Lillard’s primary backcourt running mate the rest of this season and in the future. Simons averages 15.8 points a game and is shooting 39.2% on 3-pointers this season. He is a restricted free agent this summer and the man will get paid (by the Trail Blazers, who are not going to let another team poach him).
ASK AGAIN LATER: PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
We said this same thing after the Norman Powell and Robert Covington trade with the Clippers, but it still applies. This trade not only sent out way more money than came back, but it created a $21 million trade exception Portland can use for the next year.
The Trail Blazers are reshaping their roster around Damian Lillard — you can consider him a winner here too, for that reason — and now have as much as $60 million in cap space next summer, plus draft picks and contracts to trade. The question now is what they do with all that money, all those assets — Lillard is 31 and with 10 seasons of NBA miles on his body. Portland doesn’t have time to be patient.
Portland has cleared the decks for a rebuild on the fly around Lillard, but who are they going to get? They are reportedly talking to Detroit about Jerami Grant, that could be a step (however, he wants a primary offensive role and a $112 million extension this summer), but there is a long way to go.
WINNER: JODY ALLEN’S POCKETBOOK
The Trail Blazers went from in the luxury tax a week ago to about $17 million under it now, a significant savings, plus it means they will get part of the about $10 million per team windfall payout from teams over the tax (the money teams over the tax line pay is divided among the teams under the tax line). That’s a big win for team owner Jody Allen’s pocketbook. Looking back, if Portland knew this trade was happening a few days ago, maybe they could have held on to Covington in the Clippers trade and dealt him separately to Utah or some other suitor and gotten more in return. Maybe. Still, Portland saves a lot of scratch.
LOSER: JOSH HART (MAYBE)
Josh Hart is a good player, the kind of solid role player who could help any winning team because of his versatility and all-around game. But he just got traded from one team barely making the play-in to one that now will not make it this season. Can we get this man to a good team and let him show what he can do on a bigger stage? Please? (Hart has a $13 million non-guaranteed deal for next season. Portland could waive him to clear cap space and that would flip Hart to a winner, but more likely they keep him, or trade him again to a team that will keep him on that value contract for another season.)