For the Rockets, James Harden did just about everything that could be expected offensively on an NBA court. He scored at the rim, going 6-for-8 shooting in the restricted area. He scored from the 3-point line, making six of his 13 attempts from the arc. He scored at the free-throw line, going 14-for-16 shooting foul shots. With 44 extremely efficient points, his debut for Houston was pretty much an analytics devotees’ dream.
But Portland guard C.J. McCollum was just as good. He was just 1-for-2 shooting from the line, but he was 9-for-16 from the 3-point arc and 17-for-30 overall, also notching 44 points. With Damian Lillard’s 32 points, that was enough to give the Trail Blazers a big overtime win.
For McCollum, it certainly looked like a statement game. This week, it was reported that Harden, who is looking for a trade out of Houston, expanded the list of teams he’d be willing to join to include Portland, along with Boston—joining a list already made up of Milwaukee, Miami, Philadelphia and Brooklyn.
If a deal with the Blazers were to happen, just about the only way to make it work would be for the Blazers to send away McCollum. He insisted, though, that his scoring barrage on Saturday night was not fueled by rumors of a potential trade to the Rockets.
“Look, I know I’m nice, man,” McCollum told reporters, via The Athletic. “I don’t need to psyche myself out to go against one of the best players in the world. Like, James is really good. Regardless of what James does in his spare time, James is really f****** good at basketball … like, really good. So I don’t need to get extra sleep to go guard a guy that averages 35. You know what I mean?”
James Harden Violated NBA Safety Protocols
By “spare time” McCollum was obviously referring to Harden causing a ripple of COVID-19 issues within the Rockets after allegedly being seen at a strip club. Harden denied that charge, but was fined $50,000 by the league for, “violation of the Health and Safety Protocols.”
Harden’s actions caused the team’s original opener, against Oklahoma City last week, to be postponed. Other Rockets, including center DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall, had to sit out on Saturday because they had contact with Harden and were under quarantine.
NBA players are forbidden from attending indoor gatherings of more than 15 people under the league’s COVID-19 safety rules.
McCollum, Young Blazers Would Make a Sensible Trade Package
Despite shrugging off the notion of giving his performance against the Rockets some extra oomph, McCollum did, earlier in the week, acknowledge that if Harden were to be dealt to Portland, he would be the most likely target. Last year, McCollum signed a four-year, $106 million extension that starts this season, at $29.3 million.
“What am I supposed to think?” McCollum asked after news of Harden’s trade wish list expansion hit. “I play the same position as James. If there is a trade for James, who is going to be in the trade?”
It would be McCollum, of course. A deal starting with McCollum and including promising young players Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little would be acceptable under league rules.
But with the way McCollum looked on Saturday, perhaps the Blazers would think twice before sending him out.