C.J. McCollum unhappy at suspension over 'eight expensive and costly steps'

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/5161/" data-ylk="slk:C.J. McCollum">C.J. McCollum</a> won’t be introduced as a starter for the Trail Blazers’ season opener on Wednesday. (Getty)
C.J. McCollum won’t be introduced as a starter for the Trail Blazers’ season opener on Wednesday. (Getty)

When the Portland Trail Blazers take on the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night to tip off the 2017-18 NBA season, they’ll do so without their second-leading scorer. The NBA announced Saturday that Shooting guard C.J. McCollum had been suspended without pay for one game “for leaving the bench area during an altercation” during Portland’s preseason finale against Phoenix last Wednesday night.

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If you don’t remember McCollum leaping into the fray during the fourth-quarter fracas, that’s probably because A) you are a healthy human person who wasn’t breathlessly documenting each moment of NBA preseason action or B) he didn’t exactly dive in unleashing fists of fury:

While the sum of McCollum’s activity was pretty tame — a few steps toward a conflagration featuring rookie teammate Caleb Swanigan and Phoenix center Alex Len — he did take those steps over the sideline and onto the court. And as has been the case for years and years, the league’s rules on that score are pretty clear: you become a line-stepper, you sit down for a game.

During an altercation, all players not participating in the game must remain in the immediate vicinity of their bench. Violators will be suspended, without pay, for a minimum of one game and fined up to $50,000.

McCollum’s absence deals a significant blow to a Blazers team that relies heavily on him and point guard Damian Lillard to provide its offensive pop … and it also deals a significant blow to the 2015-16 Most Improved Player’s wallet:

On one hand, the four-year veteran out of Lehigh acknowledged that he should’ve known better in a text message to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski:

“I’ve been in the league way too long to have a mental lapse like that. 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.”

On the other, though, McCollum can’t help but feel like he’s received the short end of the stick from the disciplinarians in the league office. From Casey Holdahl of Blazers.com:

“I was disappointed,” said McCollum of the decision. “You never want to miss games, especially like that to start the season. You work so hard to prepare for the season, you go through a lot of preseason games that don’t mean anything and then you miss a regular season game because of an incident that you weren’t even involved in. There’s nothing I can do about it now but more forward and learn from it.” […]

“They could have suspended me for the preseason game, they could have fined me more money and allowed me to play in a regular season game,” said McCollum. “It’s the intent and it’s usually up to them, it’s to their discretion, so they had a choice. They didn’t have to suspend me… I’m like an elephant, I don’t forget things.”

McCollum’s commentary took a sarcastic edge:

All joking a salad aside, you can understand McCollum’s displeasure with the league’s chosen method of dispensing justice here. Neither Swanigan nor Len, the people who were physically involved in the dust-up, will be barred from Wednesday’s opener; the only one who actually got punished for the incident was the dude who briefly walked toward the scene of the crime, and then walked away.

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Factor in the seeming disconnect between preseason actions having regular-season repercussions, and what some have noted is inconsistent enforcement of the “stepping over the sideline away from the bench” rule despite its reputed automatic-suspension status — hello there, Paul George in the 2014 playoffs — and it’s not hard to see why C.J.’s a little ticked he won’t be starting the season with the rest of his teammates. From Joe Freeman of the Oregonian:

“I think it’s interesting that … there’s a rule in place, but it hasn’t always been enforced,” McCollum said, adding later, “obviously, I wasn’t trying to escalate the situation. I was trying to look out for a teammate. But they decided to suspend me.” […]

“I’m getting a harsher punishment than the people actually involved in the event,” he said. “And I’m losing money. And I’m not playing. Would that bother you?”

What might hurt even more than the principle of the thing and the hit to the checking account, though, is what the ruling might say about McCollum’s spot in the NBA firmament. More from Freeman:

Added Evan Turner: “I thought CJ was at the level where you don’t get in trouble for that. I was going to walk on the court, but I was like, ‘No. They’re not messing around — they would cancel the whole year if I was on the court.’ I just figured (with) CJ, they would just let it go.”

Evidently not. Sorry, C.J. At least you can rest easy in the knowledge that your man E.T.’s going to try to do you proud in your absence.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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