January 15th, 2014 | by MIKE ACKER News | Posted In: From the Elbow

From the Elbow: Something (New) To Talk About

Just as the NBA's midseason malaise settling in, Blazers rookie CJ McCollum has finally made his debut. Let the speculation begin!

from the elbowIMAGE: Amy Martin.

At some point in the very near future, the Blazers will record their 33rd win of the 2013-14 season. If they can reach that win number on the night of January 21, when they face off against the Thunder in Oklahoma City— which is a little unlikely considering the Blazers will have to win every single one of their very difficult impending road games to do that—this team will have matched their win total from one season ago in 42 games.

That means that in just one game more than half the length of 2013-14, the Blazers will have managed to amass the number of wins they collected over all 82 games of the 2012-13 season. That’s impressive, and it’s just one more impressive addition to a season that, as of this writing, trails only the 1990-91 season in terms of winning percentage.

What’s almost as impressive as the Blazers' continued winning behavior is that this season has nearly reached its halfway point without producing much in the way of compelling storylines.

Yes, the Blazers dropped a couple games to some bad teams, and the “here we go again” narrative starting cropping up on Twitter. And yes, there has been some speculation that playing no defense and hoping to put up 130 points a night to make up for said lack of defense is dangerously unsustainable. 

However, every time the Blazers have faltered, they’ve recovered. Every suspect roster move or rotation change made by head coach Terry Stotts has been countered by one to correct it before anything spiraled out of control.

The “are they for real?” questions have (thankfully) started to fade, which makes sense considering the season is well underway at this point, and what were left with is a little bit of a ho-hum Blazer season. Sure, it’s a winning season, but a season that has thus far fallen woefully short of the league average when it comes to drama.

Maybe that’s why, during a mid-week tilt against an inferior Eastern Conference opponent, the Moda Center crowd greeted a routine substitution with a standing ovation. For the first time, the hometown fans were getting a look at CJ McCollum, and finally, there was something new to talk about.

McCollum, for those who may have forgotten, is Portland’s 2013 lottery pick. The four-year man out of Lehigh hurt his foot in training camp, and has been working his way back ever since. 

As the Blazers have continued to rack up wins, McCollum, projected to be Damian Lillard’s running mate of the future, has been something of a forgotten man. That makes sense; winning trumps nearly everything in the NBA. 

CJ was never far from the team, though, maintaining a constant presence in the locker room and on the sidelines both at home and on the road. But he was the first to admit not being able to play at the start of his rookie season was a bit of a drag. 

Tracked down following the Blazers’ opening night win over the San Antonio Spurs way back on November 2, McCollum said he was doing everything he could to keep his mind off of basketball, but he was finding it very difficult, even impossible.

“[I’m] taking it a day at a time,” McCollum said of his rehab. “It’s a marathon not a sprint, you got to make sure you do what’s necessary to take care of your body so you can put yourself in a position to perform at a high level when you return.”

That return came for CJ against the Orlando Magic on Jan. 8, more than six months after first being introduced to the Portland press corps on Draft Night 2013. It would take two D-League soirees, a DNP-CD in Sacramento,and an uneventful 14 and-a-half minutes in his aforementioned NBA debut for McCollum to demonstrate that he might just be ready to perform at a high level after all.

In his second game as a pro, CJ recorded his first night of double-digit scoring, dropping back-to-back three pointers basically as soon as he stepped onto the Moda Center floor.

With LaMarcus Aldridge recently telling Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune that he would like to re-sign with the Blazers and that, despite what the rumor mill keeps turning out, he enjoys this team and this town; Mo Williams using the conduit of the local media to announce his desire for a long-term contract with the Blazers; and Damian Lillard calling Portland “home,” it would seem all is right in Rip City.

Add CJ McCollum to that mix, a young gunner with a flair for post-game interviews, and not only is the present looking rosy (no pun intended) for the Blazers, but so is the future.

On the other hand, Gerald Wallace once speculated positively about his long-term future as a Blazer. L.A.’s broken silence about wanting an extension could have tipped any negotiating leverage in management’s favor, and this fan base seems a little too expectant of a major collapse.

Nothing is promised in 2013-14. Putting expectations on this team, even now 40 odd games into the season, are still a fool’s errand.

And that’s what makes the timing of CJ McCollum’s return that much more perfect. The drama of watching a rookie round into form isn’t nearly as gut wrenching as waiting for your team to piss away an outstanding first half of their season. 

As CJ’s game improves, it’s likely that his team will improve along with him, and hopefully some of the feelings of dread hovering remarkably close to the surface with some of the more vocal Blazer fans will dissipate.

“It’s good to finally get out there and play and compete in front of our fans,” McCollum said after his first game. “I have to get consistent with playing the games and staying healthy.”

If McCollum stays healthy and develops some consistency, he’ll probably become a staple of the Blazers’ rotation. 

And regardless, having McCollum in the lineup means there’s something for Portlanders to hypothesize about other than who is Portland most deserving 10th man, or when is the right time to tweet: “Blazer regression month.” It’s hard to know which is more unbearable.


Follow Mike Acker on Twitter: @mikeacker
 
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