The two-part conversation between Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum and Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant on the “Pull Up” podcast with McCollum and Yahoo’s Jordan Schultz this month gets to the heart of a debate many NBA fans have taken up since Durant left the Oklahoma City Thunder: What is a winner?
Part I ended with a discussion last week between the two NBA stars about the Warriors’ addition of All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins for the low taxpayer’s midlevel exception price of $5.3 million. And Part II began this week with Durant asking McCollum if he would serve as a sixth man on “a winner.”
They each had very different views on both matters, views you might expect from the league’s haves and have-nots, but the exchange was still a fascinating window into the NBA’s super-team argument, especially since a leader in the player empowerment movement was sitting on one side of the table.
Two sides of the DeMarcus Cousins signing
“I was hot,” McCollum said last week of his reaction to Golden State signing Cousins. “I don’t know if I was more mad than when you wanted to go. I think I was more mad when he did it.” This is a widely held sentiment among NBA fans, too — that the league’s richest may have just gotten a little too rich.
“Why are you made about this stuff?” asked Durant, seeking an answer that seems obvious to most everyone except a former MVP who signed with the 73-win team that eliminated him from the playoffs.
“Bro, I’m in the league,” said McCollum. “What do you mean, ‘Why am I mad about this stuff?’ I’m in the Western Conference. I’ve got to play you M.F.-ers all the time anyway as it is, over and over again. We’ve gotten eliminated by you guys a few times in the first round, so I’m looking at [Cousins].”
“You know you guys aren’t going to win a championship,” added Durant, whose trash talk had a hint of truth to it that probably stings McCollum — and probably everyone not on the Warriors — just a bit.
“We have the capability,” said McCollum. “Anything is possible. We can win a championship.”
The amiable banter stirred in circles for a while longer. Durant said McCollum “can’t be upset” about the Cousins signing, suggesting any team could have had him at that price. He hinted that Portland’s roster can’t match Golden State’s firepower and warned the Blazers not to “worry what’s going on at the top of things.” McCollum, meanwhile, wondered why, then, Cousins didn’t sign in Portland. He stood up for his teammates and reminded Durant the Blazers captured the West’s third seed this year.
‘Define a winner’
Part II picked up this week with Durant asking McCollum if he could see himself playing a super-sub role as a go-to scoring option off the bench in his prime — like a “Jason Terry 4.0.” McCollum reminded Durant that he is a starter on one of the conference’s best teams and paid handsomely to be one.
“So you wouldn’t want to do that on a winner?” asked Durant.
“Define a winner,” said McCollum. “I’m winning now. I’ve made the playoffs five straight years.”
“That’s a crazy mindset to have,” added Durant.
“What are you insinuating? You want me to come play for the Warriors for $5 million?”
McCollum didn’t drop the mic there, but he might as well have. The conversation circled on a starter versus sixth man dispute for a bit, and Durant later said the Blazers are “insecure about the Warriors” and “talk to too much s— about us,” but they left their definitions of a winner hanging in the balance.
This is the NBA’s hottest debate
If you discuss the NBA with any fan long enough, the conversation almost always tends to come around to some version of whether or not the Warriors are good for the league, so it’s refreshing to hear that the topic is fresh on the tongues of players in Golden State and on their biggest rivals.
It is interesting to hear Durant’s side, even if it’s tough to tell how serious he is through all the trash talk. It’s pretty clear he feels strongly about blending into a roster that as a team can reach as close to basketball perfection as possible, with little regard for competitive balance and media narratives. I am not sure his suggestion that Cousins was up for grabs is valid, because I think Boogie’s willingness to sign below market value in pursuit of a title was only an option in Golden State, where it comes easier.
Conversely, McCollum’s take is equally compelling. Just because he might not be as talented as Kevin Durant and the Blazers might not be as good as the Warriors doesn’t mean either is an abject failure. He doesn’t have to accept Portland’s fate, abandon that path and take the easier road, especially when it might mean a lesser role (and contract). Believing in the Blazers’ capability, the possibility of a championship, is what makes the games matter. Sure, there is jealousy there, that Cousins didn’t choose to fight the good fight in Portland, but there is honor in McCollum’s pursuit of perfection, too.
Where Durant believes McCollum is “crazy” to consider the Blazers a winner, since they have fallen short of their title aspirations time and again, McCollum might think Durant just as odd for believing you’re a winner just because you joined one. This is the argument being had on barstools around the country, and two rival players just civilly came to separate conclusions, so there’s hope for us all.
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