Portland Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey said that the process of restricted free agency is a huge pain. His staff and team are learning that the hard way with French swing-man Nicolas Batum and his agent, Bouna Ndiaye. Ndiaye said that Batum wished to play in Minnesota with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Batum himself confirmed that in an interview with TNT’s David Aldridge for nba.com. Regaardless, Batum said he would not be upset in Portland. He has three reasons for wanting out of Portland, mentioned below.
The first of Batum’s problems in Portland was his role on the team. Through his years here, Blazers head coach Nate McMillan had him usually sitting in the corner for a kick-out 3-point shot. When Batum met with the Timberwolves staff, head coach Rick Adelman said that Batum would be granted his wish of being able to run the floor on the fast break and move around in half-court sets. As much as Batum flourished from deep as a Blazer, especially last season, he can also drive as he is fast and has long arms and legs.
On the trade deadline last season, Portland fired McMillan. With the new coaching search underway, I am nearly 100% sure that Olshey is taking into account Batum’s wishes so that he can keep Batum in Portland. Reason #1 for Batum wanting to leave Portland has just been thrown out the window.
The second problem Batum has with Portland is the point guard situation. In Minnesota, they have a set, good passer in Ricky Rubio. During Batum’s tenure in Portland, he has not had a solid point guard since Andre Miller (traded on Draft Day 2011 to the Denver Nuggets). Portland’s current point guards include Nolan Smith, going into his sophmore year out of Duke University (22nd pick in 2011 NBA Draft) and Damian Lillard, entering his rookie season out of Weber State (#6 pick in 2012 NBA Draft). If things play out as planned, with Lillard being the “point guard of the future,” as Olshey called him, then that reason should also be gone.
The last reason Batum has to want out is ridiculous. There is a direct flight from Minneapolis to Paris, but not from Portland to Paris. I really see this as no reason to let good talent walk away, and that is also what Olshey and his staff are thinking. Olshey was quoted as saying that “there is no point in letting good talent walk away.” I know that I agree with that 100%.
That being said, what do Portland and Minnesota do? Minnesota wants to badly acquire Batum, and is willing to do anything to get him. After all, Timberwolves GM David Kahn likes every Blazer player, coach, or any Oregon native (I can write about that some other time). The Timberwolves probably prefer to sign Batum as if he were an unrestricted free agent, but unfortunately for them, that is not the case. Olshey made it clear he would match anything and everything the Timberwovles would offer and would not entertain in a sign-and-trade. As of Tuesday morning, there were reports that the Timberwolves have extended a 4 year, $46.5 million contract and that Batum signed it, but that turned out not to be the case. As for a sign-and-trade, Olshey says Minnesota doesn’t have any assets on the market that can match Batum’s value. The player Olshey was eyeing was “untouchable” according to Kahn.
Before Minnesota can even offer a contract of that size to Batum, they need to clear the cap space. Olshey said he was already matching, so I think the Timberwolves and the way they are waiving players is futile. Just this morning, they used the amnesty clause on Darko Milicic. They plan to waive at least two more players, including former Blazer Martell Webster.
Once they clear the cap room, they need Batum to sign the contract, which I see happening. The Blazers would then have 72 hours to match that offer. Expect the Blazers to use nearly all 72 hours. They would have a 13-man roster including Batum. The other two spots would most likely be to get a staring center and back-up veteran point guard. They have $9 million to spend on those two roster spots. The Blazers can’t go over the cap to sign other free agents or get players via trade, but they can for Batum, because they have his Bird Rights (don’t ask me what they are, because I have no idea myself). Expect Portland to sign two more servicable players before they match on Batum’s contract. After all, Kahn and Olshey are in the middle of a poker game with high stakes, and neither of them are blinking.
Until next time,