Anfernee Simons, CJ McCollum’s former teammate in Portland and now the starting spot next to Damian Lillard belongs to him. The Trail Blazers have not waived any hard feelings with their current point guard as they begin training camp.

CJ McCollum was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Anfernee Simons. This trade made CJ expendable, and now he is no longer the starting spot next to Damian Lillard. The spot now belongs to him.

Anfernee Simons Growth Made CJ McCollum Expendable in Portland and Now the Starting Spot Next to Damian Lillard Belongs to Him

The dominating headlines surrounding the Portland Trail Blazers’ trade of CJ McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans only two days before the NBA Trade Deadline focused on the Pels seeking to appease injured star Zion Williamson and the Blazers handing over the franchise to superstar Damian Lillard.

What the deal stated about Portland’s strong conviction in the bright future of 22-year-old guard Anfernee Simons got lost in the hoopla of those possibilities. Make no mistake: Simons’ outstanding performance during Lillard’s and McCollum’s injuries rendered McCollum expendable. And it cemented Simons’ status as the Blazers’ preferred backcourt partner for years to come.

Anfernee Simons was destined to play in the NBA, and he seems to be on his way to achieving his goal.

Portland-Trail-Blazers-Anfernee-Simons-1024x682

Portland-Trail-Blazers-Anfernee-Simons-1024x682 Anfernee Simons of the Portland Trail Blazers dribbles around Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jaden McDaniels during the first half at Moda Center in Portland, Oregon on January 25, 2022. | Getty Images/Steph Chambers

Anfernee Simons seemed to have been born to play in the NBA. Simons grew up in the Orlando neighborhood of Altamonte Springs, Fla., surrounded by two basketball-obsessed parents. Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, a former All-NBA point guard, was his namesake. Simons’ first NBA jersey was that of former Magic player Tracy McGrady, since Hardaway’s playing career ended primarily before he was bouncing a basketball as a baby.

Simons said that he used to question his parents about why they named him after Hardaway. Unlike Hardaway, who was known by the moniker “Penny,” Simons is known among his teammates and coaches as “Ant.”

Simons told OrlandoMagic.com, “They claimed he was a pretty excellent player.” Simons was referring to Hardaway, who he played for when playing for USA Basketball’s Under-19 National Team in 2017. “It was an honor since (Hardaway) was arguably the second-best player in the NBA after Michael Jordan.”

Simons entered the NBA at the age of 18 after turning pro out of prep school, and has spent the previous three seasons studying under Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The experiences would prepare him for the one he is now experiencing.

Simons, now in his fourth NBA season, has the potential to become Portland’s next great guard. 

*{padding:0;margin:0;overflow:hidden}html,body{height:100%}img,span{position:absolute;width:100%;top:0;bottom:0;margin:auto}span{height:1.5em;text-align:center;font:48px/1.5 sans-serif;color:white;text-shadow:0 0 0.5em black}><span>▶</span> Portland Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons took advantage of his opportunities and averaged 23.1 points per game in January.

Portland’s first season under Chauncey Billups was marred by injuries and sickness. Before requiring surgery to treat a core muscle ailment, Lillard was in and out of the lineup. When McCollum had a terrifying collapsed lung after a big contact against the Boston Celtics, he was out for six weeks. McCollum used his vacation time to care for his pregnant wife. It also enabled him to be there during his first child’s birth. It’s a moment he claimed he’ll remember for the rest of his life because of the Blazers’ generosity.

Simons, on the other hand, made the most of the possibilities presented by Lillard and McCollum’s injury. In January, he scored 23.1 points per game on 46 percent shooting overall and 42.7 percent from three-point range. In addition to two nights of 31 points, Simmons had a career-high 43 points on Jan. 3 to help the Blazers beat Trae Young (an NBA-high 56 points).

In four February games, Simons hasn’t shot the ball as effectively, but he’s still averaging 19 points per game. Most importantly, he’s shown that he’s capable of starting for the Blazers full-time.

Simons’ expansion had to have played a key part in Portland’s recent trading frenzy.

Following the trade of CJ McCollum from the Portland Trail Blazers, emerging talent Anfernee Simons is likely to start alongside Damian Lillard.

Following its recent rush of activity, Portland has charted a new direction for the franchise. Norman Powell and Robert Covington were traded to the Los Angeles Clippers, while CJ McCollum was sent to the New Orleans Pelicans. They are hoping that Lillard will stay committed to Portland, and they want to utilize their newfound resources to re-imagine the team around him.

Simons is unlikely to be replaced anytime soon. In Portland’s backcourt, he’ll almost probably be the starter alongside to Lillard. Both can create opportunities for teammates by operating off the ball and running off screens for open looks.

Josh Hart and Tomas Satoransky, who were recently acquired, are strong NBA players who may fit in well in Portland, while Nickeil Alexander-Walker was traded to the Utah Jazz on Wednesday. They’ll compete for playing time at both guard spots and as a small-ball forward.

For the time being, Simons looks to have the all-important starting backcourt spot alongside to Lillard. All eight of McCollum’s seasons in the Pacific Northwest ended with the team making the playoffs, so getting go of him couldn’t have been easy. The Blazers, on the other hand, needed to pave the way for Simons to take on a larger role and more regular playing time. Simons has set career highs in points (15.9 PPG), assists (3.7 APG), rebounds (2.7 RPG), and three-pointers made per game this season (2.8).

Since birth, Simmons has been on a collision course with NBA greatness, and he has the name to prove it. It’s now up to him to prove that he’s ready. While today’s narratives center on McCollum’s leaving, tomorrow’s should focus on Simons’ emergence as a rising star.

ESPN.com provided all of the data.

RELATED: Chauncey Billups, the coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, is ecstatic about his new job and the way his team is progressing.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is CJ McCollum?

A: In the first semester of his senior year, CJ McCollum attended Darton State College and then transferred to The University of Central Florida.

Who did the Blazers trade CJ for?

A: The Blazers traded CJ to the Miami Heat for a 2022 2nd round draft pick.

Did the Blazers trade CJ McCollum?

A: Yes, CJ McCollum was traded from the Portland Trail Blazers to the Sacramento Kings.

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