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CJ McCollum diary: The West is definitely insane. But it’s good for the sport.

New Orleans Pelicans guard talks his first Mardi Gras, the trade deadline, his players’ union duties, Valentine’s Day and more

NEW ORLEANS — When NBA All-Star Zion Williamson is healthy, the New Orleans Pelicans appear to be a potential title contender. Such hasn’t been the case regularly, however, for the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA draft who has missed 28 games this season and been plagued by injuries as a professional. Williamson isn’t the only one with health issues for the Pelicans this season, as Brandon Ingram has missed extended time and CJ McCollum is playing with a right thumb injury.

The Pelicans’ playoff hopes in the deep Western Conference took another hit Sunday as they announced that Williamson will miss “multiple” weeks with his right hamstring injury. With Williamson out since Jan. 2 with the hamstring injury, the Pelicans have lost 14 of their 20 games, including 10 consecutive games from Jan. 16 to Feb. 2. New Orleans entered this week with a 29-28 record after once holding a 24-14 record.

McCollum missed the Pelicans’ 103-100 win against the Oklahoma City Thunder with a right ankle injury.

“It’s unfortunate that ‘Z’ won’t be able to return before the break,” McCollum told Andscape on Sunday. “Injuries are a part of the game and luckily this is an injury he will be able to return from and get back to being the best version of himself. Having gone through injuries before, I know how tough it is mentally and physically. The good news is that he’s been through the worst of the worst with more severe injuries in the past and showed the resilience, work ethic and mental fortitude to push forward. This is another situation and challenge for him and our team to overcome.”

Besides starring with the Pelicans, McCollum is a husband, father, new resident of New Orleans, owns a vineyard with his wife, Elise, in Oregon, is president of the National Basketball Players Association and recently debuted a podcast on ESPN. Also added to the 31-year-old’s long list of demands on his time is that he’s taking part in a diary with Andscape during the 2022-23 NBA season.

Draymond Green, Vince Carter, Trae Young, Fred VanVleet, De’Aaron Fox, Cade Cunningham, James Wiseman, and Josh Jackson have participated in previous diaries. During the 2022-23 NBA season, McCollum is sharing insight into his life on and off the court with the Pelicans during his monthly diary.

The following is McCollum’s fifth diary installment, as told to Andscape’s Marc J. Spears, in which he talks about the Pelicans’ injury woes, attending his first Mardi Gras parade with his wife and son on Feb. 11, his busy schedule for NBA All-Star weekend as NBPA president, Valentine’s Day, travel complications post All-Star weekend, the wild Western Conference and much more.

This is my second year being here for it [Mardi Gras], so this is my first time going with my family. I actually went to an event last year that our team put on at a restaurant called Superior Seafood, which was cool. But I think last year was different because I had just got traded. We had a game the next day. I wasn’t really with my family. So, I just stopped by and said, ‘What’s up,’ and I kind of got out of there. This time, my wife, she’s going to get dressed up for it. We dressed our son up, wore some of the colors. She had the mask, which was really cool. And just to be able to interact more in that capacity, I thought was cool. I had a better understanding of Mardi Gras, when it starts, when it ends, the different types of parades that they offer, the types of foods and things like that that you can eat there, the food trucks and everything like that. I thought it was really cool, and it’ll give you a cultural experience of Mardi Gras, and the different floats and the different vibe that you get from each float was really cool.

I was holding my son, so when they would throw stuff from the Mardi Gras floats, I would have to turn and cover him up. They were throwing all type of stuff, toys, trucks, teddy bears, cups, beads, everything. He liked it. It was a lot in terms of the noise, people, horns beeping and music, but I thought that he had a good time. The only thing that was not great was that he missed one of his naps, so he was a little cranky. But he definitely enjoyed being out of the house, being able to be exposed to all those different people. It was a lot for his sensory system to process.

My wife loved it. Yeah, she had a good time. She said, ‘We got to go all out next year.’ I was like, ‘It’s going to be in season for me. You can go all out.’ But I’m getting treatment in between just trying to keep my body ready for the games before the season ends. But it was a lot of fun. I would definitely love to experience it more in-depth and be able to go to more parades, be able to really dress up and do some of the face paint and do a lot of different stuff. But I didn’t go that in-depth this time.

I do celebrate Valentine’s Day. This year, we’re going to have dinner in Park City afterwards, because I’ll be in LA. I just enjoy it. I enjoy celebrating my wife, and I always have. It’s important that you celebrate the one you care about and love; flowers, whatever the case may be. Although I do celebrate it, it is a fictitious holiday. I think it’s important to celebrate your loved ones consistently all the time and they should feel the love all the time.

I was passed over as an NBA All-Star reserve while we were on the 10-game losing streak. I wasn’t surprised, but I was happy for the guys that made it. And obviously, if we could have been a little bit more competitive, that might have helped. But we were going through a tough stretch in the season at a time when the [All-Star] voting had started.

I get into NBA All-Star weekend in Salt Lake City on Thursday. There is a lot on my schedule. Thursday’s full. Friday starts with a [NBA] tech summit that goes all day. Got executive committee meetings. We got player rep meetings with the NBPA. Media availability on Friday. Saturday, I pulled out of the 3-point competition so I could rest my thumb. But I’m basically on the hour starting Friday morning. Got some stuff Thursday night. Sunday, we’re going to go to Park City.

I’ll attend a luncheon, I’ll attend an HBCU [historically Black college or university] breakfast. I’ll be in some NBA Cares events, which are always nice. Outside of that, it’s just more so engagement, conversations. And I’ll enjoy a nice wind down. Having dinner with my wife. That’ll be nice, to relax, get away from the daily grind of play a game, work out for a game, training for a game, conference calls. It’ll be nice to kind of decompress for a little bit.

It’s more so discussion with players, updates on where we’re at, updates on things that we perceive to be important, things that are actually important to them, things that are important to our league, our governors, and how we can continue to make the game better, [and] complement what we’ve built in the past 75 years now. That’s the main goal and objective for me, personally, is just continuing to have those conversations, make sure we’re all on the same page as we continue to collectively bargain and negotiate. Be able to better articulate players’ feelings on certain issues, and also get a better understanding of governors’ issues and feelings on certain issues.

We’re in a good spot in our collective bargaining negotiations … headed in the right direction. The dialogue is ongoing, obviously. We’re staying ahead of a lot of other sports leagues in terms of our relationship between players and governors and the union. We’re at the forefront of communicating effectively and efficiently, and that helps. Obviously, everything’s not going to always be great, because you are collectively bargaining, and you are going to have some disagreements over things. But we’re headed in the right direction, and obviously we’ve extended [until] June 30, where we can continue to engage conversation, but also make sure that we’re headed in the right direction and not affect where the game is currently.

New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum (left) and Los Angeles Lakers center Anthony Davis (right) talk before a game Feb. 4 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The West is definitely insane. I don’t think I’ve seen it like this in a long time. Obviously, we are all reacting to trades, especially the big trade [Kevin Durant to the Phoenix Suns] that occurred in the West that started the process of teams offering up everything they had under the sun trying to get more competitive and figure out ways to improve roster structure. But it’s good for basketball and it’s good for the sport. We always talk about player movement, and that’s been a part of a lot of people’s conversations, is do players have too much control, whatever the case may be. But our league is a terrific league in which a trade deadline becomes a story arc where they talk about it on TV.

It makes competitive markets more competitive. It makes markets that may not be as competitive more competitive. And I think the fact that so many teams were active or looking to be active is a sign that there’s not a lot of gaps in our league, from top to bottom. There’s a lot of teams that feel like they got a chance. There’s a lot of teams that feel like they can compete, whereas in past years, a lot of teams were just like, ‘Nah, not going to make a move.’ Everyone’s looking to try to get a little bit better because they feel like the gap isn’t that wide and there’s a real shot at competing for a championship, which is a sign of our growth and the fact that our league is improving. When you look at [seeds] 4 to 14, 3 to 13, 3 to 10, it’s very close, especially in the Western Conference.

So obviously, the trade [Devonte’ Graham to the San Antonio Spurs for Josh Richardson] is tough, right? Devonte’ was one of my guys, so I’m going to miss him, but things happen for a reason. This is the business part of basketball. A lot of people don’t understand the human element of trades, and I talk about that on the podcast, what it’s like to have to move on the fly. When you know about it, it’s one thing. You kind of prepare for it. When you don’t, when you find out in an instant, you have a family, loved ones, that you have to figure out what you’re going to do with the kids. It changes the dynamic a little bit. And I say it all the time, although we are paid well, it’s an interesting dynamic to have to face — to have to go through — where at a moment’s notice at the same time every year you can get traded without knowing it, and you can also be traded without knowing it in the summertime. You have to regroup and move your family or move by yourself.

In the meantime, All-Star break gives me another week for my thumb to get a little bit better. Not being able to use it for a week will be nice in terms of catching passes, dribbling and shooting. Everybody’s banged up in different capacities. I was talking to [Sacramento Kings All-Star center Domantas] Sabonis, as we both are playing with thumb injuries. I’ve been playing with a splint for a few weeks now, and he actually fractured his thumb completely. So, I was looking at his thumb, he’s looking at mine. At least I get a week off. Yeah, I need a week off instead of going to go play in the All-Star Game. I don’t think that I’ll need surgery after the season, fingers crossed. I’ll get another image in two weeks, I believe. As of right now, I’m not under the impression that I’ll need surgery when the season’s over.

We’re all battling something, man. Everybody’s battling something. Obviously, I’m dealing with my [right] thumb. I’ve been dealing with it for a little while. It is what it is. It’s that part of the year where you make a decision — are you going to push through it or are you going to sit down and try to push through to help us make the climb to the [NBA] Finals, especially considering we’ve been so hurt this year. But for our team, it would be nice to be healthy. It hasn’t been that way this year. Hopefully, the break gives us that chance to reset. And hopefully big fella [Williamson] is back sooner rather than later.

I’m not coming back to New Orleans after the All-Star break. It just doesn’t make sense travelwise with our schedule. During Mardi Gras, it’s tough. We just went through a crazy stretch where we played like 16 games in 30 days. We just had a couple days off, back to back, a day off, back to back. Now, coming out of All-Star Break we play in Toronto. Normally, you meet the team in the city you play next. But due to customs, we would have trouble getting into the city [individually]. We actually have practice in Houston after the All-Star break. So, a lot of guys are packing for multiple weeks because they might be on vacation. The scheduling and understanding of it is not ideal. But with Mardi Gras, the parades, streets blocked and traffic, it makes it more difficult for a lot of guys to safely get in and get out.

Coming out of All-Star break is a sprint. That’s one of the things I talk about with a lot of younger players. All-Star break’s not the halfway point. We’re almost 60 games in. There 20 to 25 games left where we played the majority of the season and now it’s a sprint. And what you do over the break is extremely important, how you treat your body, how you rest, how you recover, how much you work out, because some teams fold after the break, some teams make a run and try to climb into the postseason and reestablish themselves in the standings. With all that being said, it’s important that players and fans alike understand that the majority of the season has been played. Now it’s a sprint and jockeying for position for the playoffs.

But outside of that, man, I’m just looking forward to some rest, I’m looking forward to some recovery, some rejuvenation. The All-Star break is great for clarity and it’s great for re-shifting our focus and understanding our purpose down this stretch of the season. Outside of that, I’m just trying to build, trying to figure out a way to impact the community, trying to figure out ways to tighten up the wine business and improve upon that. If there are any restaurants in New Orleans that you think should have the wine, please let me know and encourage our fans and our market to let me know, as we’re trying to figure out our distribution in New Orleans for future years to come.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.