It is hard to argue that it’s anything but fantastic being Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum. Between the $106 million contract extension he signed last offseason, the five-year endorsement deal he recently entered into with Chinese sportswear giant Li-Ning, having his own weekly radio show, getting invited to study at Harvard and being in a healthy long-term relationship, the 6-5 guard in his fifth season out of Lehigh has a whole lot going for him.
But even the most charmed of us have a tough go of it from time to time, and one could certainly argue McCollum is in the midst of a rough patch. Over the course of a week and a half, McCollum was suspended for the season opener, had a late-game turnover versus the Milwaukee Bucks that resulted in Giannis Antetokounmpo scoring the go-ahead, game-winning basket and missed a free throw with five seconds to play versus the Clippers which left the door open for Blake Griffin to hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer to win by one Thursday night at the Moda Center.
Of course, these things tend to happen from time to time in the NBA, but for all three to happen to McCollum over the span of 10 days seems especially unlucky, not that he buys into that kind of mysticism.
Said McCollum: “I don’t believe in bad luck.”
But consider the circumstances. While he’s one of the players you would least expect to draw a suspension for a minor infraction, he still got dinged by the NBA for taking eight steps onto the court during the fourth quarter of a preseason game, which ended up costing him roughly $165,000 in missed salary. He’s one of the NBA’s most underrated ball handlers, so it was surprising to see even a player of Antetokounmpo’s caliber pick his pocket in crunch time. And he led the NBA in free throw accuracy last year, shooting 91 percent while missing just 26 free throws the entire season, so missing a free throw in a crucial late-game situation Thursday night qualifies as a significant oddity.
Given everything that has happened to McCollum in less than a fortnight, one might imagine that he might be feeling slightly snake bit. But he said after practice on Friday that he’s already let go of the past, recent as it may be.
“I’ve missed more important shots in my life than two free throws in one game,” said McCollum. “It’s a long season, so what happens now is not necessarily indicative of what’s going to happen later. That’s unfortunate but it’s over with now, there’s nothing I can really do about it but move forward.”
Which those closest to McCollum say he’ll have no problem doing. Between being incredibly self-possessed and aware of the ample blessing in his life, McCollum isn’t likely to suffer any kind of crisis of confidence due to a couple bad breaks.
“I know CJ and I know he’s a very, very confident person and an even more confident player,” said Damian Lillard. “I’m sure last night he probably blamed himself for the game but we had a lot of things that played into it. He’s competitive in that way but he’s confident. I don’t think he can be shaken by having five more games like that if that happened. If there was anybody I had as much confidence in as myself, it would be him.”