Grades: Trail Blazers Bet on Backcourt, Lock Up CJ McCollum With $100 Million Extension
The Trail Blazers agreed to a three-year, $100 million contract extension with C.J. McCollum on Tuesday, according to ESPN, locking in one half of their star backcourt for the next five seasons. After moving urgently to sign Damian Lillard to a supermax extension in July, Portland and general manager Neil Olshey did the same to secure McCollum, who became eligible for an amended deal last week. The decision further stabilizes the Trail Blazers as Western Conference contenders for the foreseeable future, with their franchise cornerstones secure through 2023-24.
While paying two star players concurrently over five years at supermax and near-max prices is always a massive commitment, Portland was uniquely positioned to do so, noting the chemistry between Lillard and McCollum and the intrinsic value of each player’s personality within the culture of their franchise. Being able to extend McCollum at a slight discount, relatively speaking, was something of a no-brainer. He turns 28 in September, and this deal keeps him in Portland (at least in theory) for his entire prime.
Credit the Trail Blazers, whose offseason decisions enabled them to comfortably extend an offer like this—the newly-acquired Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore’s expiring contracts create some forthcoming flexibility, with only Jusuf Nurkic locked in past 2020-21, and potential extensions for promising youngsters Zach Collins and Anfernee Simons the only true looming commitments. While Portland lost some valuable parts of their rotation, it’s even clearer now that they’re willing to bet big on the Lillard-McCollum fulcrum performing well enough to empower a rotating cast around it. In an NBA where two stars would seem to be the barrier to entry for contention, it’s easiest to pay the ones you have, if you have them, and figure everything else out as it goes.
McCollum has evolved into a truly dynamic scorer, developing into a threat on and off the ball and a strong partner for Lillard. He’s been tied in trade rumors in the past, but as it stands, he’s a pretty tough cover, and someone as comfortable leading a bench unit as he is complementing Lillard in crunch time. It’s a testament to his flexibility and willingness to get the job done, and after last season’s conference finals run, Portland should feel even better about the price tag. He’s uniquely valuable to their organization, with real equity in what they’ve built, and at some point in this process, the dollar amounts start to matter less when the circumstances feel right. McCollum’s value to the Blazers goes beyond his counting stats, and his new contract represents that. It’s a tall price, but at least Portland knows exactly what it’s getting.