PORTLAND, Oregon — For the first time in his career, CJ McCollum knows what the opponent’s locker room at the Moda Center looks like.
McCollum was a member of the Portland Trail Blazers for his first 8½ seasons in the NBA. After being split on the deadline, he is now a member of the New Orleans Pelicans and with his new team in town to beat his old one, things were a little different Wednesday morning.
“It’s weird, man,” McCollum said he was in Portland as a visitor. “Part of the environment you operate in is just unique. … It’s part of the game. I’m looking forward to going to the game tonight.”
McCollum said he could sleep in his own bed tonight. Although his wife, Elise, and his young son were in New Orleans last week, it was the first time he could see his dog since the trade.
It was all a bit at home, even if he is about to beat his former squad. And that squad will look a little different with former teammates like Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic out for the game.
“Yeah, not so much fun,” McCollum said of not having to face those guys. ‘It won’t be so much fun. But eventually they’ll come back.’
Since the trade, McCollum has thrived in his role as head guard with the Pelicans. In 19 games, McCollum averaged 25.9 points, 6.5 assists, and 4.9 rebounds — all career highs over the course of the season.
McCollum said the situation in New Orleans is “just as I thought it would be.”
“It was a team that I kind of set myself up for, and they’ve obviously catered to me,” McCollum said. “I knew what I signed up for and what I was going to be asked to do, and I’m doing it. They also kept their agreements. I’m glad I’m in this situation.”
McCollum said he views Wednesday’s game as the “final conclusion” to this chapter. He said that although he had some closure when he first left after speaking with teammates, tonight will help.
“I’ve had conversations and been able to talk to some of my teammates and of course I still talk to them to this day,” said McCollum. “I’ve talked to the staff. It’ll be good to see Chauncey, talk about our teams. Talk about our football teams. Just catch up a bit and get back to work. Win the win and get out of here.
“This is the last step. You know this is going to happen at some point. But it’s good that they’re happy emotions opposite to the opposite. I like to call it a happy breakup. One where you’re not bitter to you ex.”
The game comes at an important moment for New Orleans, which will battle the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers in the play-in race in the West.
The Pelicans are one game ahead of both teams and are in ninth place. New Orleans has the eighth easiest schedule of the last seven games, including two against fading Portland and one against the Lakers on Friday in Los Angeles.
The Lakers have the third most difficult schedule and the Spurs have the fifth most difficult schedule in their last seven games.