NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Pelicans acquired guard CJ McCollum from the Portland Trail Blazers as part of a seven-player trade on Tuesday that comes as the Pelicans make a push to qualify for the NBA postseason.
“It’s going to elevate our group,” Pelicans first-year coach Willie Green said Tuesday night. "CJ has seen it all. He’s been in the league for a decade, (he’s) been to a conference championship. He’s won at extremely high levels. He’s a pro, and we need guys like him to elevate on the court. So we’re excited. I’m excited. He’s excited.”
The Pelicans also received forwards Larry Nance Jr. and Tony Snell in the deal, while the Trail Blazers get forward Josh Hart, and guards Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Didi Louzada, as well as draft compensation in the form of a 2022 protected first-round draft choice and two future second-rounders.
The trade marks the end of an era in Portland, where McCollum has been paired with Damian Lillard in the backcourt since 2013. Portland has reached the playoffs every season since they drafted McCollum. However, the Blazers struggled in the postseason, reaching the Western Conference finals only once while being eliminated in the first round five times.
The 30-year-old McCollum is averaging 20.5 points, 4.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds this season.
He gives the Pelicans a needed outside shooting threat and overall reliable scorer at a time when New Orleans appears to be on the upswing — despite playing this season without star forward Zion Williamson. After starting 1-12, the Pelicans (22-32) have climbed into the final play-in spot in the Western Conference with the help of their current four-game winning streak.
Williamson, incidentally, has been in Oregon trying to rehabilitate from offseason surgery to repair his fractured right foot. It is unclear if he will be ready to return this season.
The Pelicans are making less than 33% from 3-point range this season and they are 29th in the league in 3-pointers made. McCollum has shot no less than 37.5% from beyond the arc every season of his career, while shooting 38.4% overall for his career.
“I’m very hyped,” Pelicans center and power forward Jaxson Hayes, who is in his third NBA season, said of playing with McCollum. “I’ve been watching him since I was little, so that’s going to be really fun for me.”
In 2019, McCollum signed a three-year contract extension worth $100 million that runs through the 2023-24 season. It took effect this season.
This marks the second multiple-player trade the Blazers have made in advance of Thursday’s deadline. On Friday, Portland sent Norman Powell and Robert Covington to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow and Keon Johnson. That move was widely seen as financial, as it put the Blazers below the luxury tax threshold.
Lillard, a six-time All-Star, has been sidelined since the start of the year with an abdominal injury that required surgery. Like Williamson, it is unclear when, or if, he will return this season, but Lillard was at the team’s practice facility on Monday putting up a few shots.
Trail Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said Tuesday night that he could not comment on the specifics of the trade because it had not been formally approved. But he did praise McCollum.
“He's just a professional scorer, man. I always said this even before I coached him: CJ has a 1990s-type game but with like a 2020s flow. He's so great in the mid-range area, he's able to create space, he's got every kind of left-hand, right-hand finish ... He's just a nightmare to guard.”
Hart this offseason agreed to a three-year extension with New Orleans which is worth $37.9 million and includes a third-year player option. He has been a popular and productive role player in New Orleans since being traded to New Orleans during the 2019 offseason — along with forward Brandon Ingram, guard Lonzo Ball and two first-round draft picks — from the Los Angeles Lakers as part of a deal that paired Anthony Davis with LeBron James on the Lakers.
Ball has since been traded to Chicago. Hart has averaged 13.4 points and 7.8 rebounds this season.
Alexander-Walker was one of three first-round draft choices the Pelicans made in 2019. He went 17th overall, after New Orleans had taken Williamson first with their own draft choice and Hayes eighth with the first of the two first-rounders acquired from the Lakers.
Alexander-Walker has struggled to produce consistently in his first three season but has been prolific in spurts. He is averaging 12.8 points this season with a season-high of 33 points and a career-high last season of 37 points.
AP Sports Writers Anne Peterson and Steve Reed contributed to this report.
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