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Trail Blazers ship CJ McCollum to Pelicans as rebuilding effort deepens

CJ McCollum averaged at least 20 points per game in seven straight seasons for the Portland Trail Blazers before he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

The Portland Trail Blazers agreed Tuesday to trade guard CJ McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans, breaking up his longtime backcourt partnership with star Damian Lillard and sending the franchise into a major retooling effort, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

To acquire McCollum, Larry Nance Jr. and Tony Snell, New Orleans traded Josh Hart, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Tomas Satoransky, Didi Louzada, a protected 2022 first-round pick and two second-round picks to Portland. The deal was first reported by ESPN.com and the Athletic.

The 30-year-old McCollum spent nine seasons with the Blazers, who selected him in the 2013 draft. He averaged 20.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists this season despite missing six weeks in December and January with a lung injury.

Although he never made an all-star team as Lillard’s wingman, McCollum scored at least 20 points per game for seven straight seasons and helped the Blazers reach the playoffs in each of the past eight years. The highlight of his Portland tenure came in the second round of the 2019 playoffs, when he scored 37 points in a Game 7 road win over the Denver Nuggets to lift the Blazers into the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2000.

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After a 1-12 start to the season under rookie coach Willie Green, New Orleans (21-32) has worked its way into the Western Conference’s play-in mix. With franchise star Zion Williamson still sidelined with a foot injury, McCollum will pair with forward Brandon Ingram to give the Pelicans, who rank 25th in offensive efficiency, a second dependable scorer who can create his own shot. Once Williamson, who is sidelined indefinitely, returns to the court, New Orleans will sport a potent offensive trio.

New Orleans’ backcourt rotation has undergone dramatic change in recent years, and McCollum, who is owed $33.3 million next season and $35.8 million in 2023-24, should serve as a stabilizing presence. To acquire McCollum, the Pelicans sent out three guards but didn’t part with any pieces of major consequence. Hart, 26, has emerged as a solid starter after signing a three-year, $37.9 million contract last summer, but Satoransky is a journeyman who has made little impact and Alexander-Walker, a 2019 first-round pick, is still struggling to score efficiently in his third season.

Moving the well-respected McCollum, who serves as the president of the National Basketball Players Association, is the latest development in a season of radical change for the Blazers, who fired coach Terry Stotts in June, parted ways with president Chris McGowan in November, fired general manager Neil Olshey in December and traded starters Norman Powell and Robert Covington to the Los Angeles Clippers in a previous cost-cutting move on Friday.

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Lillard, 31, has been sidelined since Dec. 31 with an abdominal injury and the Blazers (21-33) have fallen to the No. 11 seed in the West standings in his absence. Thanks to the trades of McCollum and Powell, Portland has gotten under the luxury tax, cleared its major long-term commitments aside from Lillard’s contract and become one of the few teams on track to have significant salary cap space this summer.

The sheer volume of turnover for the Blazers — both on the court and in the front office — will only intensify persistent rumors about Lillard’s future. The six-time all-star publicly requested roster upgrades last summer, and has now seen his supporting cast largely gutted during a disappointing campaign. Lillard signed a four-year, $196 million extension in 2019 that runs through the 2024-25 season.

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