C.J. McCollum is steadily making progress toward getting back on the court after breaking the fifth metatarsal in his left foot on October 6, and even though his NBA debut is yet to be determined, he’s still keeping plenty busy.
But he’s still finding time to pursue his other interests of the court. While a lot of professional athletes never really put their degrees to use, McCollum is already applying the skills he learned as a journalism major at Lehigh by working as a correspondent of sorts for NBA.com. After going one-on-one with soon-to-be NBA commissioner Adam Silver right after the draft, McCollum landed an interview with newly-appointed NBA President of Basketball Operations, Rob Thorn. Some of the highlights …
C.J. McCollum: What is your day-to-day schedule like now, being in such a position in terms of controlling the fines?
Rod Thorn: I get here anywhere from 8 to 8:30 (a.m.), and we have people that work here who have a series of reports that I go through when
I get in. Did we have any flagrant fouls last night? Did we have any technical fouls? Did we have any altercations, fights, anything of that nature? I’ll have a report on all of that. We want to make sure that we’re on top of everything so that’s the first thing I do when I come in. If there is an altercation anywhere, I will always get a phone call, no matter what time it is. If there is an altercation, you interview the players to see what they felt about it and you end up making whatever decision you end up making.
Normally we have anywhere from three to five meetings a day on a range of subjects. We’re also involved in international here, we have 18 people that I’m responsible for that work internationally so we get reports from them, talk to them, and see what’s going on in their lives.
CM: NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver is taking over soon, what do you think will change, and what has it been like transitioning in to this season? I see you guys are changing the format of The Finals, that’s a huge change.
RT: [Commisoner] David [Stern] has been the commissioner for 30 years, he has a style, he has a personality. Adam has been here 21 years, so he has worked very closely with David for the last 10 to 15 years. I’m sure a lot of things will be very similar, but Adam has a different personality than David, so I am sure there are a few things Adam will do differently. We have a lot of new owners in the league now, and the old line owners, there aren’t very many of them left. There are a lot of new, young guys, so it’s a different group to deal with. I’m sure there will be some differences, but I think it will be a very smooth transition, because Adam has been a big, big part of what has transpired here over the years because he’s worked so closely with David.
As you pointed out, we do have a difference in The Finals, in the schedule from a 2-3-2 to a 2-2-1-1-1 format. When that was put in place in 1984, we didn’t have charter flights, you flew commercial. It was harder to get the media from one place to another. The feeling was, we’ll get more stories if you get the media in a place for three games, and it will reduce the travel. Now those aren’t as big issues. The competition committee felt there was a competitive disadvantage in it in that three of the first five games will be on the court of a team with the lesser record. Usually in a seven game series, if the series is tied 2-2, 86 percent of the time the team that wins Game 5 goes on to win the series. Also, the committee felt the team that had to go on the road for three games would be gone for seven or eight days so there would be a competitive disadvantage for them. There were a lot of things that went in to it and the reasons we did it originally are not nearly as important as they were at the time.
CM: Rumor has it that you played a role in drafting Michael Jordan. When you saw him playing at North Carolina, did you think he was going to become one of the best players of all time? What did you think his ceiling or basement was, and did he exceed your expectations for him?
RT: You know something, when we drafted Michael, my feeling was that we had a need for a lot of different things, but we definitely needed a wing player. I thought Michael would be a very good player. I wish I were prescient enough to even consider that he might turn out to be what he was, but the reality is, I had no idea he was going to turn out to be what he turned out to be. I was very hopeful that he’d be a very good player, and be an All-Star type of player one day. To be arguably the greatest player ever, certainly one of the greatest players ever, I had no idea of that.
CM: I had to ask that. He broke his foot his second year, I broke my foot in the first year, no one remembers that!
RT: He certainly did. At the time it was widely reported that when he was about ready to come back toward the end of the year, the Bulls were very skeptical about bringing him back. Michael’s retort was ‘I want to play now, I feel good, and I never want to play on a team that doesn’t make the playoffs.’ So he came back, and the Bulls made the playoffs and that’s when he scored 60-some points in one of the games. He had the same injury you had, and hopefully it will work out for you the same way.
I felt like I learned a little about who Rob Thorn is and what his duties are at the NBA by reading this interview, so kudos to C.J. on a job well done. I also know that C.J., not someone working on his behalf, put the questions together and sent the finished product to his editors at the NBA, which isn’t always how these kind of features are get accomplished. You’ve got to respect a guy who wants to do his own work.
The Trail Blazers host the Houston Rockets tonight at the Moda Center (tipoff scheduled for 7:30 pm on KGW, ESPN and 620 AM) in their last game before the All-Star break. If the Trail Blazers manage to beat the Rockets for the second time in the last five days, they’ll enter the break with a 27-27 record and will be no worse than eighth in the Western Conference standings. It would also give the Trail Blazers more wins with 28 games to play than the bookmakers in Las Vegas pegged them to get all season. There’s still a long ways to go and the schedule in March gets much more difficult — their first game back from the break is against the Golden State Warriors — but it never hurts to go into the stretch run with a little momentum.
It also takes some of the sting out of Portland having only one player, starting shooting guard CJ McCollum, invited to participate in All-Star Weekend, and even his inclusion is limited to competing in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. But with 17 of their remaining 28 games coming against teams above .500, Portland will need their roster to be as rested as possible if they’re serious about making the 2016 postseason, and that especially goes for McCollum and Damian Lillard. As NBA.com’s John Schuhmann points out in the video above, Terry Stotts has had either Lillard, McCollum or both on the floor for almost the entirely of Portland’s 2015-16 season (not counting the games in which neither was unable to play due to injury). Stotts has been using this rotational tactic all season, and it’s one of the main reasons the Trail Blazers have outperformed expectations so far this season.
It’s been a bit of an up and down year for both Maurice Harkless and Gerald Henderson in their first seasons as Trail Blazers since being acquired via separate trades during the 2015 offseason,
Henderson missed all of training camp, preseason and the first eight games of the regular season, a difficult hurdle for a new player to clear, even for one entering his seventh NBA season, after undergoing a minor hip surgery in the offseason. As for Harkless, he’s already appeared in more games this season with the Trail Blazers as he did during the entirety of his last season with the Orlando Magic, though he’s seen most of his statistics, from minutes to points to rebounds, diminish every month as the year has played out.
For much of the season, Harkless and Henderson have been in a competition for playing time, with head coach Terry Stotts playing both roughly equal minutes in the first half of games, with the second-half minutes going to whoever played the best in the first. That went on for the first half of the season until Stotts opted to cut his rotation from 10 players to nine, which resulted in Henderson’s minutes increasing considerably while Harkless was relegated to playing mop-up minutes or simply drawing DNPs.
But Saturday night in Houston, Stotts would need both Harkless and Henderson with starting power forward Noah Vonleh out with a sprained left ankle and Allen Crabbe, Portland’s top sixth man this season, sidelined with a bout of gastritis. They responded by combining for 30 points on 11-of-21 shooting while taking turns checking Rockets All-Star shooting guard James Harden as Portland defeated Houston 96-79 at the Toyota Center. It was arguably the first game in which both players exceeded the high hopes Trail Blazers fans had for the two athletic wings, a game in which they were menaces on the defensive end while managing to take advantage of the opportunities provided by playing alongside the likes of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on the offensive end.
“I (Harkless) he was very consistent with (Harden),” said Stotts. “He had good length, he was really in tune every possession. Harden is a great player, he’s going to get shots and you’re not going to completely stop him but I thought he worked really hard on him.”
Harden finished with 33 points, but needed 18 shots from both the field and free throw line while committing a career-high 10 turnovers, due in large part to the effort Henderson and Harkless put in.
“Gerald had a lot of bounce,” said Stotts. “He’s been on a roll, he’s feeling very comfortable out there. I thought defensively, he was good as well, he had his stint on Harden.”
As noted by his head coach, Henderson played easily his best basketball of the season since the middle of January, which has coincided with the Trail Blazers winning 10 of their last 13 games. Whether it’s due to being completely fit after missing the start of the season or knowing he’s going to second-half minutes — or a combination of both — Henderson has looked more like the player who started 292 games over six season with the Hornets.
“I feel good. I think that’s how I’m used to playing. I feel good and if I go in the game I try to bring energy — that’s it — on both ends of the floor. I think that helped us win tonight.
“I feel good and if I go in the game I try to bring energy — that’s it — on both ends of the floor,” said Henderson. “I think that helped us win tonight.”
While Henderson’s production has become somewhat expected over the last month of the season, seeing Harkless go from playing seven minutes combined in the five games prior to starting the last two games in place of Vonleh has been a surprise. Harkless himself said he was a bit taken aback by his promotion, though it was something he had prepared himself for, even when he was only playing fourth-quarter blowout minutes.
“I just stayed locked in the whole time,” said Harkless. “Even when I wasn’t playing at all, just stayed locked in, stayed ready, just kept working every day. I knew it would come back around.”
He only got 16 minutes in his first start of the season versus the Raptors, taking just one shot and scoring just two points in the loss. But on Saturday, Harkless almost doubled his playing time to 30 minutes and made a much larger impression in the process, going 2-of-3 from three in the first quarter and 6-of-13 from the field for the game while grabbing six rebounds and tallying two steals.
“I definitely think I just played better tonight,” said Harkless. “Last game, I hadn’t played in six games or something like that, it kind of caught me off guard when (Stotts) told me I was starting. So I think a little bit of it was rust but tonight I just went out there and just played. Making those first two shots, that was big for me as well.”
“For a guy to go games without even checking on sometimes or getting in for the last few minutes of blowouts, he could have easily been in his feelings and checked out on us, but he’s stayed locked in,” said Damian Lillard of Harkless. “At practice when they get out there and play three-on-three, he’s playing hard, he’s competitive, he’s positive. He’s been himself. I talked to him, I told him ‘You’ve just got to stick with it. You’re a huge part of what we’re gonna do. Just keep your mind right and be ready because you never know.’ We had a few guys do down and now he’s playing really well for us. I was happy with the way he played tonight.”
It’s hard to tell what will happen to Harkless’ and, to a lesser extent, Henderson’s minutes once the Trail Blazers are back to full strength. But for the first time this season, the full potential of both players was a welcomed sight.
HOUSTON — The old saying goes that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If Saturday’s result in Houston is any indication, the Trail Blazers’ collective memory is well intact.
After losing to in overtime in the last game in Houston despite owning a 15-point fourth-quarter cushion, the Trail Blazers did a much better job protecting their lead in the second meeting, with the result being Portland besting the Rockets 96-79 Saturday afternoon in front of a sellout crowd of 18,308 at the Toyota Center.
“That was a really good win, obviously,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I like the way we came out. Defensively we were solid all night, for the most part… They’re a dangerous team. They can get the threes going and I liked we kept our composure when they made their run.”
Portland is now 25-27 overall and 10-16 on the road this season after playing their last seven games in the cozy confines of the Moda Center. The Trail Blazers have now won 10 of their last 13 games and are currently mere percentage points behind the Utah Jazz for eighth in the Western Conference.
The Trail Blazers looked to be the better team Saturday night from the opening tip. Portland shot 52 percent from the field and 50 percent from three in the first quarter while scoring eight points on six Rockets turnovers to take a 29-23 lead into the second quarter. They’d start the quarter a 13-2 run to take their first double digit lead of the night and would go up by 21 by way of holding the Rockets to just four made field goals in the second quarter while turning six more turnovers into seven more points. Add with the Portland bench outscoring Houston’s 18-0 in the first half and it was easy to see how the road team took a 55-36 lead into the intermission.
“We played really well defensively, I thought,” said Damian Lillard. “We set the tone from the start of the game with active hands, getting our hands on the balls. We just weren’t fun to play against to start the game. That’s what we wanted to go coming out tonight and we did a great job.”
Portland would take their largest lead of the night at the 5:01 mark of the third quarter, though Houston managed to get that down to 21 before the start of the fourth. The Rockets would continue to slim the Trail Blazers’ lead, getting it down to 11 points in late in the fourth quarter. One can imagine there had to be a little nervousness on Portland’s bench after seeing two-thirds of a 32-point third quarter lead evaporate, especially with the specter of the last game in Houston still looming. But after a 10-0 Rockets run cut the lead to 91-76 with two minutes to play, Portland scored the final five points of the game to secure the 17-point lead.
“I don’t know if nervous is the right word, but certainly the way (Houston) won the last time here, I think that was probably in the back of everybody’s mind,” said Stotts. “They’re capable of doing that… I liked the way we kept our composure and pulled out the win.”
Six Trail Blazers finished in double figures led by Damian Lillard, who went 7-of-20 from the field and 3-of-9 from three to finish with 21 points and 10 assists for yet another double-double in 36 minutes.
CJ McCollum went 6-of-13 from the field to finish with 16 points, while Gerald Henderson went 5-of-8 from the field to 16 points as well. Al-Farouq Aminu filled up the stat sheet with 11 points, seven rebounds, three steals, two assists and a block. Maurice Harkless, who started his second-straight game in place of Noah Vonleh (sprained left ankle) and saw extended minutes due to Allen Crabbe missing the game with gastritis, went 6-of-13 from the field for 14 points, six rebounds and two steals in 30 minutes.
Portland’s bench would outscore Houston’s 24-12 thanks in part to the Rockets not getting any points from a reserve until early in the fourth quarter. James Harden finished with a game-high 33 points with Dwight Howard adding 17, but no other Rocket scored more than eight points in the loss.
“James (Harden) is a good player,” said Henderson, who spent a good chunk of his minutes defending the hirsute shooting guard. “He knows how to score, he knows how to draw fouls so sometimes it’s very difficult to guard him. He got his 30 but we felt like we did a good job containing some of the other guys.”
Next up, the Trail Blazers head to Memphis to finish a quick two-game trip versus the Grizzlies at FexEd Forum on Monday. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 pm.