Usually, what happens in preseason play doesn’t matter all that much. The Portland Trail Blazers are finding out that’s not always the case.
The NBA announced Saturday morning that Trail Blazers starting shooting guard CJ McCollum is suspended for the regular season opener for leaving the bench during an altercation between Trail Blaers rookie forward Caleb Swanigan and Suns center Alex Len in the fourth quarter of Portland’s 113-104 victory versus the Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on October 13.
Both Swanigan and Len were assessed technicals and were ejected, and at the time, it seemed as though that would be the extent of the penalties for what was a very minor confrontation. But NBA players are strictly forbidden from entering the court, even during preseason play, and are subject to suspension if they do so. Even though McCollum only took a few steps onto the court and was corralled by one of the team trainers before making it to scrum, NBA Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Kiki VanDeWeghe still found cause to suspend the guard for the first game of his fifth season.
Assuming he is healthy enough that he could play, McCollum will miss Wednesday’s regular season opener, coincidentally enough, versus the Suns in Phoenix on October 18. What’s more, the 6-4 guard out of Lehigh will be fined roughly $165,000 for being suspended one game, an especially punitive punishment considering he is in the first year of a new four-year, $104 million contract. The money goes to charities agreed upon by the NBA and the Players Association.
“I’ve been in the league way too long to have a mental lapse like that,” said McCollum via text Saturday afternoon. “I want to apologize to my teammates and the organization for putting our team in this situation. The Western Conference is already tough enough as it is. It won’t happen again. Lesson learned. I take full responsibility for those eight expensive and costly steps.”
With McCollum suspended, Evan Turner and Pat Connaughton are the two most likely candidates to start alongside Damian Lillard in the backcourt.