C.J. McCollum's basketball journey begins now

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C.J. McCollum's basketball journey begins now

NEW YORK -- For C.J. McCollum, step one is complete.

On Thursday night, he walked across the stage at the Barclays Center, was handed a hat with the Portland Trail Blazers' logo and completed his dream of being drafted in the NBA.

His pick: First round, 10th overall.

“It’s only step one,” his father Errick McCollum Sr. told CSNPhilly.com.

Yes, only step one.

The next step is to pick up where he left off at Lehigh University.

McCollum is known for his perimeter skills -- he shot 49.5 percent last season and 51.6 percent from three. He led the Mountain Hawks in scoring last year, averaging 23.9 points in his senior season before fracturing his left foot in January. He holds the Patriot League record for most points scored with 2,361.

But for all the positive stats and reviews coming into the draft, there were scouts who still weren’t impressed. They felt McCollum, though a talented scorer, would be average when his skills were matched up against the NBA's best and not foes in the NCAA's Patriot League. Nothing spectacular. No superstar potential.

Told this before he walked across the stage to shake David Stern’s hand, McCollum told CSNPhilly.com: “I play for myself and my family. It’s not about proving people wrong anymore. I’m going to be in the NBA. It’s about being successful and outlasting. You got to beat the average. You got to beat that 4.7 years (average span of a player’s career), you got to outlast that and try to get that second and third contract.

“I’m going to do whatever is possible to be that guy that comes out of this draft class. There’s always busts. There’s always guys that sneak up on you. Hopefully, I’m one of the guys that sneaks up on you.”

McCollum (6-3/200) will join a team with reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, and for the moment, all-star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who has been rumored to be on the trading block.

McCollum already has visions of Portland’s backcourt being dynamic. The Lehigh product mixed with Lillard -- he smiled when talking about it.

“It’s a blessing to be able to play in the NBA,” he said. “It’s even more of a blessing to be able to play with the Rookie of the Year. A guy that you can kind of learn from. A guy who has been in simular situations as you. .... He’s where I am trying to get. ... He’s had a huge impact in his rookie year; one of two rookies to play all 82 games. ... I have a lot to learn and I am looking forward to it.”

But there is a confidence in the 22-year-old from Canton, Ohio. A confidence that he’ll produce better than expected. A confidence that Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts may see when McCollum arrives in Portland. His dad already sees it.

“He’ll be the best,” McCollum Sr. said. “And I’m not just saying that cause I am his father. He’ll be the best. Keep track of him. You’ll see.”

Told of his father’s comments, McCollum responded. “He's supposed to say that. He’s my dad. But at the same time, he knows how hard I work.”

Those who watched McCollum at Lehigh know how hard he’s worked, too. When Stern called his name, there was a loud roar, as fans cheered McCollum, who became the first Lehigh product to be drafted and the second player in the history of the Patriot League. Adonal Foyle (Colgate) was the first player to be drafted from the league in 1991.

“I’m just thankful to be in the position where I can represent my home state, my home city, Lehigh and my family,” McCollum said.

He reflected for a moment when a reporter asked about revisiting those times when making it to the NBA seemed so far away, like a goal that would never be reached.

“It seemed really far away when I was 5-foot-2 in my senior year in high school,” McCollum said. “It seemed a little bit closer as I got to college. When I broke my foot, it seemed a little bit further away in my senior year [at Lehigh], but then I realized I had a really good chance to make it to the NBA.”

Asked beforehand if he was nervous, McCollum said no. “Anxious,” he responded.

Anxious to start his NBA story. Anxious to be prove his dad correct.

For C.J. McCollum, it starts now. Right now.

Bennett joins GrandMama
When the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted Anthony Bennett with the first overall pick, the 6-foot-8 forward became the second player in UNLV history to be drafted No. 1, joining Larry Johnson.

Bennett averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds in his only season with the Runnin' Rebels.

Bennett said he was told of the resemblance to Johnson’s game, so he took some time to dig up old film. It was the 1990 NCAA championship game when Johnson’s squad knocked off Duke, 103-73. Johnson finished that game with 22 points and 11 rebounds.
 
“I kind of see where the comparisons are coming from,” Bennett said.

Reports: Pacers the latest team pursuing Jahlil Okafor

Reports: Pacers the latest team pursuing Jahlil Okafor

Another team has emerged in Jahlil Okafor trade talks: the Indiana Pacers.

The Pacers are pursuing Okafor in an attempt to add help for Paul George, according to ESPN's Ramona Shelburne, Jeff Goodman and Chris Haynes.

Indiana would make some sense for Okafor because of their style of play. The Pacers rank 25th in the NBA in fastbreak points per game. They're 25th in speed/distance traveled on offense. (The Sixers are first.) 

And Indiana is also in the top-third of the league in post touches and paint touches per game. 

Al Jefferson, a plodding post player Okafor is often compared to, averages 8.5 points for the Pacers this season and has played in every game.

What might the Pacers be willing to part with?

Thaddeus Young would be a solid return, but it's hard to see the Pacers doing that because it wouldn't make them a better team.

C.J. Miles? Probably not. The guy's an elite three-point shooter.

Forget about Myles Turner, one of the best young bigs in the NBA. 

A trade that might make sense for both teams would be Monta Ellis and a 2017 first-round pick for Okafor. (Before you continue reading, just know I'm not advocating for such a deal, just bringing up the possibility.)

Ellis has fallen out of favor in Indiana, playing six fewer minutes per game than he did the last two years. And as a 31-year-old, undersized two-guard who's long struggled from three-point range, he's not the most efficient player. He's also owed $23 million the next two seasons.

The Sixers could use additional scoring, but could do better than Ellis in free agency. This theoretical trade would really be about the first-round pick.

If the season ended today, the Pacers (29-28) would get the 18th overall pick. In that regard, the pick coming back wouldn't be much different than what they could have received from New Orleans before the DeMarcus Cousins trade.

The Sixers seemed unwilling to take on the contracts of Omer Asik or Alexis Ajinca in a trade with New Orleans because, even though they have salary cap flexibility, they don't want to limit their payroll for multiple future seasons. The same would likely be true with Ellis, even though he'd fill more of a need.

Okafor for Miles would be a good trade for the Sixers. So would Okafor for Young. But again, neither deal would make Indiana better in the short term, so it's probably a pipe dream.

The trade deadline is Thursday at 3 p.m.

Apparently, DeMarcus Cousins threatened to fight Nik Stauskas on a plane

Apparently, DeMarcus Cousins threatened to fight Nik Stauskas on a plane

Apparently, DeMarcus Cousins wasn't a big fan of Nik Stauskas.

Discussing the Cousins trade on his podcast Monday, Zach Lowe recalled a story from two years ago when Cousins threatened Stauskas on Sacramento's team flight to China.

"DeMarcus Cousins ruined Nik Stauskas, or almost did," Lowe said. "The stories about DeMarcus Cousins berating Nik Stauskas, threatening to fight Nik Stauskas on the plane when they were going to China for the preseason. 

"He ruined Nik Stauskas, he ruined Sauce Castillo to the point where he just had to go somewhere else."

Lowe and guest Brian Windhorst went on to compare Stauskas to Buddy Hield, the centerpiece of the Kings' return for Cousins. Both felt the Kings did poorly in the Cousins trade, arguing the draft pick they received from the Pels was equivalent to the one they got from the Hornets (No. 22) for Marco Belinelli.

Windhorst told a story of a conversation he had recently with a personnel executive who said Hield will be a backup two-guard. 

"You know who [Hield] is very similar to in that regard?" Lowe asked. "Nik Stauskas."

"[Stauskas] had a nice stretch in the first third of the season for the Sixers (which showed) he's going to be a rotation player. I think he settles into that — his shooting has slumped a little bit. But that's an example of DeMarcus Cousins ruined Nik Stauskas, and now they're trading him for maybe an equivalent player."

The Kings are just a complete mess, which is hugely important for the Sixers, who own pick swap rights with Sacramento in the 2017 draft and also have the Kings' unprotected 2019 first-rounder (see story).

That trade continues to boost former Sixers GM Sam Hinkie's credibility and make Kings owner Vivek Ranadive and GM Vlade Divac look like they don't know what they're doing.

"If your owner has stability and knows what he's doing and knows how to hire the right people and get out of their way, that's a (good) situation. This was created by Vivek," Windhorst said.

"And that doesn't mean that Vlade didn't make the decisions within the trade that they made with Philadelphia, but putting Vlade in that position when he wasn't ready for it — and I think everybody, including Vlade would agree — led to this.

"I just can't believe how little they got (for Cousins). You know that they've been offered so much more for DeMarcus in the past. And so not only is the recent decision to basically sell the long-term for the now, to trade Nik Stauskas so that you can sign Kosta Koufos or whatever else they did with that money, going and signing Arron Afflalo."

At that point, Lowe interjected and poured on poor Vlade, recounting the players Divac signed with the money freed up in the Stauskas heist.

"Kosta Koufos, Rajon Rondo — who might be out of the freaking league next year — and Marco Belinelli. ... That's who they traded those picks and swap rights for — those three players, who aren't going to help you win and everybody knew they weren't going to help you win. And they could have acquired two of them via free agency if they used the stretch provision and had any idea what the stretch provision was."

The Kings made their bed. Their only real chance of avoiding a catastrophic next few years is if Hield — a.k.a. Stauskas 2.0 — can pull them out of it.