It was announced today after the team’s practice in Tualatin that rookie guard C.J. McCollum has been fully cleared to practice without restriction for the first time since breaking the fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot during training camp. McCollum underwent a non-surgical procedure to repair the fracture on Oct. 16 and has gradually increased his on-court work since then. While the team says there is no timeline for McCollum to make his NBA debut, he is now at least medically cleared to play in his first NBA game.
Here is what both McCollum and Terry Stotts had to say about McCollum’s return after Friday’s practice.
“C.J. was cleared to practice today. He went five-on-five, he had a good practice, he looked good. There’s still no timeline on when he’s expected to play but it’s just the next step of the process of getting back. That’s where we are with that.”
What did you see from him?
“He moved well, he shot well. Going from one-on-one to three-on-three to five-on-five is a lot of the same things. Just getting back into the flow of things with this team.”
So he’s completely unfettered?
“No restrictions, unfettered.”
How happy are you for him personally?
“I’m happy for him more than anything else because he’s had a long year. Going back to Lehigh, it’s been a long year for him with the two injuries. A young guy like that wants to be on the court.”
How does it feel to be back out on the court without restrictions?
“It feels good to able to go out there and practice. This is one of my first practices going five-on-five with the guys so it’s good to be back out here and kind of feel like a player again.”
How are you feeling physically?
“I feel pretty good. I’m at my target weight right now, so that’s great. Just working my way back into game conditioning.”
How much do you miss being able to be out on the court?
“I miss it a lot. Watching your guys go out there and battle and you’re getting to watch practice and kind of see the gameplan unfold and watching the guys have success, it kind of makes you more hungry, makes you want to be out there, so I’m happy to kind of be able to work my way back into practice.”
Coach Stotts said there’s no timeline for your NBA debut. Do you have a timeline in your head?
“Hopefully soon, but just kind of taking it slow, following the protocol they have in place. I look forward to returning to game action.”
Have they talked to you at all about working you into the rotation?
“Just taking it one day at a time. It was good to get out there and practice and kind of get some live action in there. But obviously the next step will be playing the game, just don’t know obviously when that will be.”
You’re completely pain-free?
“I’ve been pain-free for a long time. But yeah, the foot feels really good. Obviously I’ve got to get more practices in, kind of get used to playing five-on-five, but I look forward to it.”
How will it be judged that you’re ready to get in games?
“I know I won’t be ready after one practice. We’ll just kind of take it slow and kind of see how I feel, see how I’m progressing.”
How much have you learned just watching the team without playing?
“I’ve learned a lot, honestly. We’ve got a great group of guys out there, a lot of veterans, a lot of guys with game experience. It’s good to kind of see how everything unfolds before you jump right into it. ”
Any discussion about being sent to the D-League?
“No, we haven’t discussed that.”
With the team playing as well as they are, you think it might be hard to crack the rotation. How confident are you about your ability to get in there?
“I’m here for a reason. It’s a long season. At some point you’re going to get your chance, you’ve just got to take advantage of it. Obviously we’re having a lot of success right now. Just look forward to working my way back in and doing whatever is necessary.”
Probably a good problem to have, joining a lineup that is already winning.
“Yeah, absolutely. You can never have too much depth.”
How hard has it been watching from the sidelines?
“It’s hard, especially watching other rookies, you played against rookies. Watching them have success makes it tougher but it kind of humbles you and makes you continue to want to work hard and get your chance.”
According to Shams Charania of The Vertical, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard will not play for Team USA at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in order to rest and continue rehabilitating the plantar fasciitis injury that dogged the 6-3 for much of the 2015-16 season. I can confirm this report.
Though Lillard was able to play through the injury after missing seven games in late December, the pain caused by the plantar fasciitis in his left foot never really went away. He received treatment on his foot throughout the season, though the most effective approach to the injury, which causes extreme pain on the bottom of the foot and heel, is rest, which is obviously hard to get when you’re the leader and best player on a team trying to make the postseason. By forgoing the month-long lead up to the Olympics and the Games themselves, Lillard should have the recuperation time he’ll need to go into Portland’s 2016 training camp completely healthy.
Charnania is also reporting that Lillard was hoping for more time to make the decision before being pressed by Team USA for a commitment one way or another. This could very well be true, though if being completely healthy and rested for the start of the 2016-17 NBA season is Lillard’s motivation for declining a Team USA invite, it’s hard to figure how another week or two would change his decision.
Lillard initially declined being a part of the pool that Team USA draws their roster from, though he ultimately relented despite not feeling particularly optimistic about his chances of being named to the Olympic team after being passed over for the FIBA World Cup team in 2014. But between players opting to rest in preparation for the upcoming season and the myriad of concerns regarding the 2016 Games, the number of candidates has dwindled to the point where Lillard would have been a lock to make the Olympic team had he chosen to participate.
But Lillard opting for rest over Rio doesn’t mean you won’t have a Trail Blazer to root for during the Olympics, as Al-Farouq Aminu and the rest of Team Nigeria (a team that also includes former Trail Blazer Ike Diogu and former Oregon Duck Chamberlain Oguchi) have qualified for the 2016 Games after winning AfroBasket 2015 in Tunisia. And CJ McCollum has also been invited to play on the USA Select Team, whose purpose is to help the USA National Team prepare for international events, though players from the Select team have been promoted to the National team, with the most recent example being Mason Plumlee making the 2014 World Cup team.
In between playing a few rounds of golf and enjoying some of Oregon’s finest beverages (I’m assuming), Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts joined Chris Mannix on “The Vertical” podcast to discuss his past as a player and coach and Portland’s unexpected 2015-16 season…
Adrian Wojnarowski, NBA oracle and head of “The Vertical,” leads off the podcast, with Stotts’ segment with Mannix starting just before the 42 minute mark. Whoever put the post together was kind enough to break down the topics in case you don’t have time to listen to the whole thing, and I’ve transcribed a few segments for your reading pleasure…
Stotts on CJ McCollum’s season, which culminated with the third-year guard being named the NBA’s Most Improved Player…
“I knew he was going to have a good year and I knew he would probably be in the conversation for Most Improved. Now, I wouldn’t have said how many points he was going to average or anything else, but I knew that the opportunity was going to be there and he was going to take full advantage of it because he’s extremely skilled, he can put the ball in the basket and. There were some question marks — one was his health — because he had had injuries each of the three previous seasons, we made him our backup point guard, that was something that he hadn’t done at this level. So there were certainly question marks in certain areas, but the fact that he could score and do what he can do well, I don’t think that surprised anybody within our organization.”
Stotts on Damian Lillard using slights from the media, perceived or otherwise, as motivation…
“I will say in this day and age, I think everybody knows what everybody is saying about everybody. If they don’t read it, a friend reads it or a friend retweets it or forwards the tweet. It’s really hard not to know what’s going on out there and people can try and say, ‘No, I don’t pay any attention to that’ but Damian is a very honest person and he’s true to himself. To say that he doesn’t know what is being said, it wouldn’t be truthful. I think a lot of players and a lot of people in general use that as motivation. I find it funny how people think that Damian is alone with that because you have goals and he wants to do well, he wants to prove what he can do. I think it’s more about what he’s capable of rather than what people are saying.”
When asked during exit interviews about the report stating that he had been invited to play for the USA’s Select Team, which helps the Men’s National Team train for the 2016 Summer Olympics, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum said, “I would love to be a part of Team USA basketball.”
That feeling is evidently mutual, as USA Basketball officially announced on Tuesday that McCollum was one of 25 players chosen for the Select Team that will scrimmage against the Team USA roster in Las Vegas in mid-July during their preparation for the upcoming games in Rio.
“It’s and honor and a privilege to be chosen to represent the USA, especially in this setting,” said McCollum via text. “A step in the right direction.”
Though it’s unlikely that playing on the Select Team will result in a chance to compete internationally this year — Mason Plumlee started on the Select Team that helped prepare Team USA for the 2014 FIBA World Cup of Basketball before eventually being named to the roster for that competition — the invitation means that McCollum is now taken the first step to potentially making the National Team in the future.
“Being chosen for the Select Team is an honor and it is an important step in becoming involved in USA Basketball’s National Team program in the future,” said USA Basketball National Team managing director Jerry Colangelo via press release. “Current national team players like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, as well as many other outstanding players, got their USA National Team start through a Select Team.”
McCollum, who won the 2016 Most Improved Player award after averaging 20.8 points on 45 percent shooting from the field and 42 percent shooting from three, 4.3 assists and 2.7 rebounds in 34.8 minutes per game this season, joins the likes of Emmanuel Mudiay, Devin Booker, Kentavious Caldewell-Pope, Zach Lavine, Doug McDermott, Jabari Parker, Marcus Smart and Cody Zeller on the Select Team, which will be coached by Gregg Popovich, who is taking over for current Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski after the 2016 Olympics, former Trail Blazer and current Spurs assistant Ime Udoka and Villanova head coach Jay Wright.
The USA Select Team will train with Team USA from July 18-21 at the Mendenhall Center on the campus of UNLV before a friendly versus Argentina on July 22. The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro start August 5.