Dame admits McCollum trade is 'tough to deal with' (2:03)

It was difficult to see the trade away ofCJ McCollum. There is a time and a place.

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On the final night of the All-Star break, the New Orleans Pelicans and their coach Willie Green went out for dinner at a restaurant in Phoenix.

The trade that sent Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada and Larry Nance Jr. to the Portland Trail blazers happened in February. They had just a 10% chance of making the playoffs.

In his first season as head coach, Green needed to figure out how to put both players in positions to be successful.

The three had a good time drinking a cabernet sauvignon. One of the NBA's premier wine connoisseurs, who operates his own winery in Oregon, was served a critical error when he ordered a 2015, but they were served a 2018? They settled on a quick solve for the year, after being quick to call out the mistake.

They say that this was the turning point of the season, when a trio gathered around a table of food and drink.

It set the stage for the rest of the season and allowed us to express ourselves.

Over dinner, the nine-year veteran told the veteran that he wanted to have an open line of communication with him, looking to discuss the game at every chance.

It was important for me to hear him say everything he said. He said he could communicate with him if he needed to. It was helpful for me.

After the All-Star break, the Pelicans went 13-10) and finished as the ninth seed. Since the trade, New Orleans has gone 8-2 with the two of them in the lineup. The play-in game is against the San Antonio Spurs.

While playing in Portland, he never missed a playoffs. The team dinners are going to need to continue this season because of the lack of a franchise star, but it is going to be the leader of this young team that is going to have the most experience.

CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard spent almost nine seasons together with the Portland Trail Blazers before McCollum was traded to New Orleans on Feb. 8. Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

There is a reminder of one of the most important plays in the history of the organization in the locker room. One of the lasting memories of his time in Portland was when he rose up, his wrist flicking, the ball drifting in the air toward the basket as time expired in the Western Conference semifinals against the Denver Nuggets.

Every day when he walks to the locker room, he is reminded of his friend. The two had three 50-win seasons. They made it to the Western Conference Finals once, but they knew they would hit their ceiling.

We knew it would come eventually. We were talking. We knew this day would come, but when it did, it was really sad. All good things come to an end.

They sat next to each other on the plane. They took vacations together. They would ride to and from the games. Their mothers were close to each other.

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At media day, the two would promise to hold one another accountable, no matter what.

It's weird, man. It is odd to see him enjoying playing with someone else. I have always said that I and CJ are partners. That is my friend. I know what he is capable of.

He was trying to balance his style with that of the other player.

His leadership style came from his parents. The importance of communication was emphasized by his mom. If you want to get respect from people, you have to give it back.

He learned that sometimes he had to be direct and blunt.

The person that was the a--hole was the one who backed me up. I have different hats on with everyone on the team. Do y'all want to win? You B.S.-ing. He will bring that type of presence to your game.

Nance, who was included in the trade with Portland, says he has seen McCollum embrace his role as a veteran leader in New Orleans. Nance says that in Portland, McCollum backed up Lillard. He says that McCollum is trying to impart the message.

"I can be an a-hole at times, but I can also be an encouraging teammate and show different types of leadership roles." I needed to be that guy for Dame to be successful.

The primary voice of the franchise is no longer an All-Star veteran. He knows he has to talk now.

Brandon Ingram has missed 13 games since CJ McCollum arrived in New Orleans, but the Pelicans are 8-2 with Ingram and McCollum in the lineup. Derick Hingle/AP Photo

On their recent four-game, seven-day West Coast road trip, the Pelicans had multiple team dinners, including one at an Italian spot close to their hotel in Los Angeles. The seating arrangement mattered more than the location.

While he was away from the team, Zion was seated next to McCollum. The two talked for hours, joking, bonding, and the team hopes they can be a foundation for years to come.

You give us another rolling finish. The executive vice president of basketball operations for the Pelicans says that they want a player who can make plays off the dribble and also want to win.

When the season is over, McCollum says he will go to the house of his teammate to get to know him better. He will set up meetings for the team in Las Vegas during Summer League.

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I think that is how you build chemistry.

While his leadership style has been important for New Orleans off the court, it is his impact on the court that has been even greater.

He says that first of all, his play, and that he tries to be consistent every night. Guys respect him and have seen him.

In his first 25 games with New Orleans, McCollum is averaging 25.2 points, 6.0 assists and 4.6 rebound per game on 49.5% shooting. Over a full season, all of those marks would be career highs. He is shooting from 3 with a usage rate of 29.5%.

Part of the team's recent success was shifting to a new starting lineup with a new point guard, a new wing, a new power forward and a new center.

The lineup had an offensive rating of 122.6 and a net rating of 8.2. The Pelicans have won five games by 30 or more points this season, which is a new franchise record.

The former backcourt mate of McCollum is not surprised by the success.

When the trade happened, I thought he was exactly what they needed, because they have the talent in New Orleans. I think it is taking shape.

The team is optimistic about how McCollum can lead the young franchise and its eager, injured superstar, despite the fact that the team will have to advance out of the play-in tournament.

Green says they watched a lot of film of him in Portland. He is a competitor. We are seeing it all come together in New Orleans.