in the final For an all-star break, New Orleans Pelicans guard C.J. McCollum, forward Brandon Ingram and coach Willie Green stepped out for a small private dinner at FLINT by Baltaire in Phoenix.
The Pelicans have gone 1-4 since the February 8 deal that sent Josh Hart, Thomas Satoransky, Nickel Alexander Walker and Diddy Lozada to the Portland Trail Blazers for McCollum, Larry Nance Jr. and Tony Snell. At 23-36, they only had a 10% chance of making the playoffs, according to ESPN’s BPI forecast.
Ingram and McCollum are the dominant playmakers on the ball, and Green, in his first season as head coach, needed to figure out how to put both players in positions to succeed.
So the three talked and enjoyed Cabernet Sauvignon. McCollum, an NBA leading wine connoisseur who runs his own winery in Oregon, ordered 2015, but got 2018, bluntly. McCollum was quick to call out the bug, and they settled on a quick fix for 2017.
This, they say, was the turning point of swan season, as the trio gathered around a table of oysters, french fries, cake, syrup, and the wrong wine.
“I think that set the stage, and the tone, for the rest of the season, kind of allowed us to connect on a different level,” McCollum told ESPN. “It kind of allowed us to all be on the same page to express what we want and feel that we can achieve together, and how we’re going to do it.”
McCollum, the nine-year-old veteran, told Ingram over dinner that he wanted to have an open line of communication with him, and looked forward to discussing the game at every opportunity.
“It was touching to hear him say everything he said,” Ingram says. “Everything he said he’s been through, which he’s been through in the league. His point of view on the game, he said I could reach out to him however I needed to. It worked for me.”
The Pelicans went 13-10 after the All-Star break and finished the regular season as the No. 9 seed. While Ingram has missed 13 games since the deal, New Orleans is 8-2 with McCollum and Ingram in the lineup. Ingram is listed as a potential player in Wednesday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs.
McCollum never missed a preseason while playing alongside all-star Damian Lillard in Portland. But in order for the team dinner to continue this season, McCollum will need to lead this young Pelicans, a team with very little playoff experience and still without a star of the franchise.
Which leads to The locker room of the Trail Blazers inside the Moda Center is a reminder of one of the most iconic plays of McCollum’s tenure with the organization. The photo shows McCullum rising, wrist flicking, and the ball drifting in the air toward the basket as time passes late in Game 7 of the 2019 Western Conference semifinals against the Denver Nuggets—one of the lasting memories of his time in Portland. .
Every day when Lillard walks into the locker room, he’s reminded of his friend’s accomplishments. The two had three seasons in which they won 50 times. They’d made the Western Conference finals once – McCollum’s shot lifted them against the wall there – but they knew they had hit their roof.
“We knew it would eventually come,” Lillard says. “We were having that conversation. We knew that day would come, but when the day actually came, it was like ‘damn.'” We accomplished a lot. But…, all good things come to an end.”
Lillard and McCollum were always sitting next to each other on the team plane. They took vacations together. They would ride to and from home games together. Even their mothers became close.
Every year on Media Day, the two promised to hold each other accountable during the season, no matter what.
“It’s weird, man,” Lillard says. “It’s weird to see him enjoy playing with someone else.” “It’s like a little bit jealous, like… a guy who enjoys playing with them. You and CJ have always told me [partners]. This is really my friend. I’ve always known what he’s capable of.”
Much of what he did in Portland was trying to balance his style with that of Lillard.
McCollum says his leadership style came from his parents. His mother emphasized the importance of communication and holding others accountable. His father taught him that if you want to get respect from people, you have to give it back.
Sometimes, you know that means you have to be direct — and upfront.
“CJ supported me with that and then he was the guy who was the pit guy,” Lillard says. “He’ll say what he has to say. I wear different hats with everyone on this team. CJ was like, ‘Do you want to win?'” You are BS-ing. You need to work on your game. “I think he will bring that kind of presence.”
Nance, who was included in the trade with Portland, says he saw McCollum adopt his role as a New Orleans veteran. Nance says McCollum supported Lillard in his conversations with colleagues in Portland. Now, he says, McCollum is “the one who’s trying to get the message across.”
“I can be a pithole sometimes,” McCollum says. “I was very direct, very rude, but I could also be a fellow cheerleader and come up with different kinds of lead roles. But depending on how Dame needed it, I needed to be that guy, right, in order for us to be successful.”
McCollum no longer has an All-Star veteran to be the franchise’s primary voice. He has to speak now – and he knows it.
at recent days Four games, a seven-day West Coast road trip, the Pelicans had several group dinners, including one at an Italian venue near their Los Angeles hotel and a Sacramento steakhouse. But the location wasn’t what mattered. Seating arrangement.
In both, McCollum sat next to Zion Williamson, who was away from the team when McCollum arrived in New Orleans while he was recovering from a season-long foot injury. The two talked for hours, joked, and bonded with each other, a duo the team hopes will be a fixture for years to come.
“You give us another player in dynamic dribbling,” says David Griffin, executive vice president of basketball operations for the Pelicans. “It’s exciting to think about what they can achieve together because their mindsets fit each other so well.”
When the season ends, McCollum says he plans to go to Williamson’s house to get to know him better, and do the same with his other teammates. He also says he will hold team meetings in Las Vegas during the summer league.
“I think that’s how you build chemistry,” McCollum says. “This is how you build cohesion.”
While McCollum’s leadership style was important to New Orleans off the field, his impact on the field was even greater.
“First of all with his play,” Ingram said when asked why McCollum’s message was so well received. “He goes out and tries to be consistent every night. The guys respect him and have seen him in this league.”
In his first 25 games for New Orleans (subtracting a five-minute performance and zero point at the end of the regular season), McCollum averaged 25.2 points, 6.0 assists, and 4.6 rebounds per game on a 49.5% shot. All of these degrees will be their professional highs over the course of an entire season. It also averages a 39.9% shootout out of 3 with a 29.5% utilization rate.
Part of the team’s recent success has been the switch to a new starting lineup with McCollum at the base, Ingram and rookie Herb Jones on the wings and Jackson Hayes and Jonas Valanciunas in attack and center.
This squad posted an offensive rating of 122.6 in 142 minutes with a net average of 8.2. Since February 14, the Pelicans have won five games by 30 points or more — a new franchise record for one season, according to ESPN stats and information.
McCollum’s former backcourt teammate, who says he’s watched more Pelicans games this season than he’s seen in his entire career, is not surprised by his success.
“I thought when the trade happened, given the talent they had in New Orleans, I was like in my head, it’s exactly what they need,” Lillard says. “Look at their team, they’ve got talent, they’ve mixed youngsters with a little bit of experience, and I just throw it in the mix and really get something. I think it’s shaping up.”
So, while the Pelicans will have to exit the playing cycle without Williamson, the team is optimistic about how McCollum can lead the young franchise and its avid injured superstar.
“We definitely believed in CJ and his capabilities on the ground,” Green says. “We’ve seen a lot of movies about him in Portland… he’s a competitor. We all watch him come together here in New Orleans.”