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BY KERRY EGGERS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/'It should be about the intent, and mine was not to get involved,' Blazers guard says

TRIBUNE PHOTO: DIEGO G. DIAZ - MCCOLLUMWith tongue planted firmly in cheek, CJ McCollum said Sunday it's not surprising that the NBA has levied a one-game suspension for a leaving-the-bench infraction that will result in him missing the Trail Blazers' regular-season opener Wednesday at Phoenix.

"I should have known that, with my history of violence on the court, I would get suspended," Portland's starting shooting guard said.

McCollum, of course, has had no history of incidents during his four-year NBA career. But he left the bench during an altercation between the Blazers' Caleb Swanigan and the Suns' Alex Len in last Wednesday's preseason game at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

The suspension will cost McCollum one 82nd of his 2017-18 salary, or more than $292,000. More than that, McCollum — Portland's No. 2 scorer last season at 23.0 points a game — will miss Portland's first counting contest this season.

"I'm disappointed," McCollum said. "You never want to miss games, especially 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 you weren't even involved in?

"But there's nothing I can do about it now but move forward and learn from it."

McCollum had held out hope that, since it was a preseason game, "and with me not involved in the actual event and just trying to help my teammate," league officials would let this one slide.

No such luck. And McCollum is not pleased about it. He would like to see the rule amended.

"They could have suspended me for the last preseason opener (Friday night at home against Maccabi Haifa)," he said. "They could have fined me more money but allowed me to play in the (regular-season opener). It should be about the intent, and mine was not to get involved (in the fracas)."

The NBA instituted automatic suspensions for players leaving the bench during an altercation before the 1994-95 season, a reaction to some serious on-court skirmishes and brawls in the preceding years. The current rule is a one-game suspension and up to a $50,000 fine. Even if it happens in the preseason, the penalty is to sit out the next regular-season, or playoff, game.

And it's at least a bit subjective. "Paul George wasn't suspended," McCollum said. "There is a rule in place, but it hasn't always been enforced."

The reference was to Game 6 of the Indiana-Atlanta playoff series in 2014, when George took a step off the Pacers' bench during an altercation. Rod Thorn, then NBA president/basketball operations, chose not to suspend him, deciding that George had not left "the vicinity of the bench. If a guy takes one step onto the court, you're not suspending guys for that."

Whatever his intent, McCollum took several steps off the Blazers' bench in Phoenix before being restrained by trainer Geoff Clark.

Evan Turner joked about preferential treatment.

"I thought CJ was at the level where you don't get in trouble for that," the Blazers' swing man said. "They'd cancel my whole year if I went out on the court. I figured with CJ, they'd let it go. I'm glad I didn't go on the court. If I did, he'd be suspended five games, I'd be suspended 10, probably."

Teammate Damian Lillard is in favor of a softening of the rule.

"A rule is a rule, and you don't want to let one guy off and not the next," Lillard said. "But if something like that happens in the preseason, maybe you get suspended for the next preseason game. Or make it depend on what you do when you leave the bench.

"If you run on the court like you want to jump in, then handle it the way you need to. But if somebody is walking on the court trying to maybe pull a guy out of it, then maybe you fine him. I don't think you suspend a guy for a couple of steps on the court."

Problem is, it's difficult to determine intent in the heat of the moment. League officials have made it standard across the board — leave the bench and incur the penalty.

Coach Terry Stotts said he wasn't surprised at the league's reprimand for McCollum.

"It met the criteria for being suspended," Stotts said. "If you walk on the court during an altercation, you'll be suspended."

Stotts thinks the rule is a good one.

"The rule has served its purpose very well," he said. "CJ knows better. It's very unfortunate, but the rule is there for a good reason, and probably doesn't need to be changed."

McCollum also offered this suggestion: "The rules should be looked at by people who have played, not by people who have never played before."

In this case, the ruling was imposed by Kiki Vandeweghe, the league's executive vice president/basketball operations. Vandeweghe played 14 seasons in the NBA, including five with the Blazers.

McCollum was told by a reporter Sunday that it appeared that the suspension really bothered him.

"I'm getting a harsher punishment than the people involved in the event," he said. "I'm losing money, and I'm not playing. Would that bother you?

"My job is to perform. My job is to be available for games, especially when healthy. Me not playing hurts the team. It puts us in position where we're not at full strength to start our season."

Swanigan and Len were both fined $6,000 -- $2,000 apiece for each technical and $2,000 more for the ejection.

McCollum's suspension is a big loss for the Blazers, for sure.

"I mean, 23 points a game," Lillard said. "Our level of focus has to be up. I'm sure that will give Phoenix some energy, knowing we're a man down — and one of our main guys, who has impact on every game we play.

"We have to come together. The effort has to be collective. It's one game. We have to go out there and get it done for him."

Said Stotts: "We're going to miss him. We'll miss his scoring. He's an important part of what we do. We'll absorb not having him for a game. If we didn't have him for an extended period, that would be another story. But for one game, it gives other players a chance to get on the court and find a way to win a game."

Another reporter suggested the suspension is ironic, given McCollum's contributions to the NBA, including performing clinics on the league's behalf last summer in Africa. McCollum sounded a vengeful warning.

"I'm like an elephant," he said. "I don't forget things."

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@kerryeggers

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