After Initial Concerns, McCollum Comes Around On The Restart

by Casey Holdahl
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Like a lot of people living through COVID-19 pandemic, CJ McCollum had some reservations about going back to work.

After spending almost all of his time exclusively at home in the company of his fiancé and their new puppy since the NBA suspended the 2019-20 regular season in mid-March due to the coronavirus, the prospect of reentering a world in which the virus still posed a significant threat was a risk the 6-4 guard out of Lehigh wasn't initially onboard with.

So when McCollum, as Portland's NBA Players Association representative, contacted his teammates back in the first few months of the shutdown to gauge their thoughts on a potential restart, he didn't attempt to couch his concerns, let alone those of his compatriots.

"For what it's worth, I can tell you that I voted 'no,'" said McCollum of the initial plans to restart the season. "I love the game of basketball. I would love to go out there and compete. I understand all of those things, but at the time, I felt like I didn't want to play. Felt like, based on what I was hearing -- circumstances and situation -- that I didn't want to play."

But after hearing more about the NBA's plan and consulting his with his family, McCollum's concerns were assuaged enough to convince him that the 22-team restart at Walt Disney World in Orlando was and is a risk worth taking. He supports those who are opting out, regardless of their motivations, and it is very possible he would have joined those ranks if his life were a bit more complicated.

But as a healthy young man with relatively few attachments, and thus, fewer loved ones potentially impacted by his decision, he came to the conclusion that participating in the NBA's restart, imperfect as it might be, is the right choice for him, and for those he represents.

"My biggest thing was just family, being able to be around my family, not wanting to expose people, understanding that obviously basketball is important but life is more precious than the game, so that was my real thinking behind it," said McCollum. "And what's going on with the world right now, I just wanted to make sure that everything was stable and that if I am going to go, we have a plan in place to where we can still impact and make a difference in our society, specifically the communities that we come from, try to help better the next generation of young black kids and kids of color. So that was my thinking in all of it."

So McCollum will join the rest of the Trail Blazers (sans Trevor Ariza and Caleb Swanigan) when the team boards a private charter for Orlando later on this week. And after a few days of quarantine once the team gets to Florida, they'll be able to hold their first real practices since the shutdown, which might require a bit of adjustment after spending the last four months avoiding human contact.

Returning to regular basketball activity will be an adjustment as well, though to hear McCollum tell it, getting back into "game shape" might be less of a transition than getting accustomed to all of the physical contact that most didn't think much of before the COVID-10 pandemic. Despite not having his own court, going through workouts at the practice facility -- even those of the solo variety -- and maintaining a relatively active lifestyle has McCollum generally unconcerned about the physical aspects or returning to play.

"I'll be fine, I've done what I need to do to kind of get myself ready mentally and physically," said McCollum. "Working with Todd (Forcier, sports performance specialist), working with our strength coaching staff, being able to get treatment, soft tissue work, having people come in and work on my body has been helpful. I think that's the biggest thing you miss, the rhythm and stuff comes back eventually when you play, but some of the soft tissue work that you can't do yourself is really important. So being able to get some of that done the past few weeks and months has helped how I feel when I'm moving on the court. The skill stuff is still there because I work on it."

While the Trail Blazers were the lone team to vote against the 22-team restart plan -- Portland felt as through the 20-team approach was a better option, and thus, voted against the 22-team plan -- McCollum is nonetheless bullish on their chances of extending their postseason streak to seven years. The Blazers are one of three teams trailing the Grizzlies by 3.5 games for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, and in order to at least force a play-in series (if a team is 4.0 games behind the eighth-place team at the end of the eight "seeding" games, a one or two game contest for which team gets the final playoff spot is triggered), McCollum figures they'll need to go at least 5-3, if not better, to have a chance.

"I think we've got as good a chance as anyone," said McCollum. "As healthy as we've been in a long time having (Jusuf Nurkić) and Zach (Collins) being able to return, obviously we're missing Trevor, missing Rodney Hood. But I think we've got as good a chance as any team for that eight-seed."

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