Casey Holdahl

McCollum: 'There’s no animosity in the locker room, there’s no hate, there’s no jealousy'

by Casey Holdahl
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Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum was a guest on The Vertical Podcast with Chris Mannix this week for an interview that touched on a number of topics, most of which pertain to the difficulty Portland has had winning games after vastly outperforming expectations during the 2015-16 season. You can listen to the entire interview below -- McCollum's segment starts just before the 38 minute mark -- though I've also transcribed some of the more interesting quotes regarding the team struggling in the first half of the season and why that might be, whether they're playing with the same "edge" they had last season, what kind of media coverage "pisses' McCollum off, George Karl's recent comments about the team and relationships between players in the locker room...

McCollum's thought on why the Trail Blazers, owners of a 16-23 record, have underperformed this season...

"I think it’s a combination of things, honestly. Obviously when you go through a season, it’s always important to stay healthy; I think we’ve had some injuries. Chief — Al-Farou Aminu — got hurt early on in the season and ultimately missed 18, 19 games. He’s our best defender by far, he’s able to guard a lot of different positions. I think toward the end of the year, playing him at the four and starting Moe Harkless is one of the reasons why we became a better team. So with him getting hurt, that’s kind of put us in some different positions and different situations that we weren’t accustomed to.

Then obviously Dame is coming off the ankle sprain, he just played last night. I think the injuries have hurt us and then just lack of execution, a lack of efficiency, a lack of consistency on both ends of the floor has caused us to lose some games at the end of games against sub-.500 teams or teams who are barely over .500. and that’s led to a lot of losing streaks."

On whether the team has the same "edge" they entered last season with...

"I think from an individual standpoint, definitely. I think when guys secure deals and get contracts and things like that, people use that. When you lose, they try to pick you a part, they figure out ways to say 'Well, they got paid all this money and they got comfortable or they don’t care anymore,' and they say things like that but it’s just not true. Obviously in some cases that’s happened to teams and happened to players before our guys. Everyone is still young, so I think the biggest thing guys are trying to do now is trying to prove they were worth that.

"And you look at guys like Allen Crabbe who’s having another career year, he’s playing well. He’s shooting well from the field, I think he’s 42 percent from three-point land, making contested and uncontested shots. Evan Turner’s efficiency has raised, he’s playing a similar role that he did in Boston being one of the primary ball handlers coming off the bench and guarding a variety of positions. And you look at the way each of us are playing, it’s not like we’re playing poorly. We’re playing well, we just have to defend better as a whole, we’ve got to execute better down the stretch and I think coming into this season, we understand that teams knew exactly how we were going to run certain sets, they know our 'Thumb,' they know our 'Motion' and we weren’t going to surprise anyone this year. We knew that coming into the season, so it’s just about figuring out ways to win close games, figuring out ways to put teams away when you get up and figuring out ways to sustain a level of intensity for four quarters. That’s what the good teams do."

On whether there's been anything written or said about the Trail Blazers in the last month that McCollum has "taken significant offense to..."

"I think, from different people talking about our team, that aren’t involved with our team, that have nothing to do with our team, haven’t been around us, don’t know the players, it’s one thing to say ‘They’re not winning games.’ That’s okay, you can say that, that’s a fact. But to talk about our characters, to say that we’re not working hard when you’re not even around the team, you don’t know how many hours guys are putting in, how much film, how much preparation the staff goes through on a daily basis, that’s the stuff that pisses me off just because you’re not there. To see people talk about leadership, to say that 'This guys is doing too many things off the court' when in reality, he’s still more efficient, playing at a more elite level and to critique that it’s just unfair, it’s unnecessary."

Regarding the team staying together during difficult times...

"We’ve got a tight-knit group, there’s a lot of young guys who are on the same career trajectory, so we all get along well. Everybody still hangs out together, there’s no animosity in the locker room, there’s no hate, there’s no jealousy. Everybody just works hard, so when we see that stuff it’s baffling because we’re living the same way we were last year. Guys are still doing the same stuff, they’re still working hard, they’re still trying to figure things out. It’s tough when you lose games and there’s high expectations and you’re not performing the way you’d like to, but at some point you have to change and your work ethic has to change and the results will change."

On George Karl's comments about the Trail Blazers and Damian Lillard...

"It was a bit surprising just because, to my knowledge, he doesn’t have relationship with Dame, doesn’t know him, has never really been around him. So for him to try to gauge his character and assassinate what he means to this team, it was very interesting. But obviously that’s on and done with now and we’re just moving forward and trying to win games."