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CJ McCollum says West title is 'ours for the taking'

Guard says championship-or-bust is mentality now for Portland

Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum made it clear in a post on The Players’ Tribune that only a run to The Finals will do for Portland this season.

Fresh off a 2018-19 that saw Portland advance to its first Western Conference finals since 2000, the Blazers invested in some roster upgrades in the offseason via trades and other moves. As the rest of the West got deeper and changed significantly — particularly the Los Angeles Lakers, LA Clippers and Golden State Warriors, to name a few — the Blazers improved themselves as well. They added veterans (Kent Bazemore, Pau Gasol, Anthony Tolliver) and potential contributors (Mario Hezonja, Hassan Whiteside) while inking McCollum and All-NBA guard Damian Lillard to contract extensions, too.

Those changes and more had McCollum writing that he sees no reason for the Blazers to think they can’t emerge as the top team in the West this season.

“All the talk this off-season has been about the Lakers and the Clippers. LeBron and A.D. Kawhi and Paul George. And that’s O.K,” McCollum wrote. “Those are two teams that are going to be great this year, and if we want to get over the hump and get to the Finals, we’ll have to go through them. The Rockets may have gotten better by adding Russ. The Warriors are still as dangerous as ever. And the Nuggets and Jazz aren’t going anywhere.

Yeah, the West is deep.

But the way we see it … it’s also wide open. It’s ours for the taking. I mean, if we start this season off the way we know we can, and then we get Nurk Fever back? There’s no telling where this team can go.”

In his piece, McCollum explained his deep connection with Portland and its fans, which are some of the most loyal and generational in the NBA. He wasn’t shy about proclaiming Portland having a place at the table with other contenders.

“I think that in past years, we might have been a little hesitant to say that we’re trying to win a championship. We’ve always had that mindset, but we’ve never been very vocal about it,” McCollum wrote. “I guess it’s because outside of Portland and in the media, people haven’t put us in that conversation. So it’s like … nobody had given us permission.

Well, I can tell you right now that we don’t need permission.

Our goal is to win a championship. Not to build toward it, but to make it to the NBA Finals, and win the whole thing. We’ve put the work in. We know what it takes, and we know what we have.”

Portland’s 2019 playoff run began with a first-round upset of the more-favored Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that featured George and Westbrook. From there, the Blazers rallied in Game 7 in Denver to upset the Nuggets in the West semis (a game fueled largely by McCollum). Portland was then swept in the West finals by the Golden State Warriors, but emerged confident it had a legit shot as a title contender for years to come.

“We have the right team, the right coach, the right mindset … and the right fans. We’ve got it all,” McCollum wrote in The Players’ Tribune. “Now all we need to do is finish the job.”