• The Trail Blazers have traded CJ McCollum to the Pelicans for a package headlined by Josh Hart and a protected 2022 first-round pick
  • Damian Lillard is currently on the sidelines as he recovers from abdomen surgery
  • Portland is headed towards a short rebuild, while the Pelicans are solidifying their push for the playoffs

In possibly one of the biggest trades to happen ahead of this year’s NBA trade deadline, the Portland Trail Blazers decided to hit the reset button and deal CJ McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans, putting Damian Lillard’s future into question.

ESPN Senior Insider Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news via social media and fans were understandably concerned with the Blazers front office as it seemed like the assets they received were lacking for a player of McCollum’s caliber.

The Pelicans gave up Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Didi Louzada, a protected 2022 first-round pick, and two second-rounders in exchange for McCollum, plus Larry Nance Jr. and Tony Snell.

The 2022 first-rounder has interesting protections placed on it by the Pelicans as detailed by ESPN’s Andrew Lopez.

It will return to the Pelicans if the pick lands in the top four of the lottery, it conveys to the Blazers if it goes within the fifth and 14th pick or it goes to the Hornets if it lands at the 15th to the 30th spot.

Hart is best known for his abilities to space the floor and grab boards as a player who can be deployed as a shooting guard or a forward, while Alexander-Walker is a third-year shooting guard that is currently finding his footing as a pure scorer.

McCollum’s on-court capabilities are well-known at this point after spending eight and a half seasons in the NBA as a secondary scorer that fits in well with a team that is in need of a bucket-getter, especially from beyond the arc.

With McCollum out of the picture, Lillard now goes into it alone with a projected starting five of point guard Anfernee Simons, Lillard, Alexander-Walker, Josh Hart and Jusuf Nurkic if he ever decides to return this season.

Lillard is currently recovering from surgery to his abdomen and the recent developments could see him be a shutdown candidate as the Blazers have practically nothing to play for.

The Pelicans have put themselves in prime play-in contention after this trade, while the Blazers are projected to go into full tank mode in order to get the pick and integrate their latest acquisitions.

Moving McCollum has created a $21 million trade exception--which the trade credit expires a year from the date of trade--and around $60 million worth of cap space that they can use to build around Lillard, as noted by Wojnarowski.

Prior to the blockbuster trade, it was thought that the player to be moved would be Lillard as the return for him would have been an All-Star player, but the Blazers will have to commit to an extended rebuilding phase with McCollum as their centerpiece.

Keeping Lillard after trading his running mate is a massive gamble on the part of the Blazers as the six-time All-Star’s bond with McCollum is strong.

The Blazers could be pulling off a move similar to that of the Toronto Raptors trading DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard back in 2019, but with lowered expectations such as making it past the first round of the playoffs next season.

It will be interesting to see how Lillard will respond as he watches from the sidelines how the Blazers will fare with the new acquisitions.

CJ McCollum
JUNE 03: CJ McCollum #3 of the Portland Trail Blazers reacts as time expires in the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets during Round 1, Game 6 of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Moda Center on June 03, 2021 in Portland, Oregon. Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images