Jul 18

Batum Still a Blazer

By mikebarrett
In what was clearly an uncomfortable process, the dust has finally settled and Nicolas Batum is still a Portland Trail Blazer, the proud owner of a new four-year contract.  At times emotions ran high, as they sometimes do when the stakes are high in a free-agent battle.  There was posturing, strong words, and certainly some gamesmanship.  But, on Wednesday, everything ended in a predictable fashion, with the Trail Blazers matching Minnesota's offer sheet.

Portland general manager Neil Olshey, who met with the media in Las Vegas on Wednesday, never looked or seemed nervous during this process.  He assured all parties involved throughout that Batum wasn't going anywhere.  When Olshey was asked outside his hotel if a decision had been made, he answered directly, "the decision was made a long time ago.  We were never not going to have Nicolas back."

Batum realized this, and even admitted, upon arriving in Portland on Wednesday, "I always knew I was going to be back in Portland."

Why then, fans have asked since, did this feel so ugly at times?  

As everyone knows, negotiations in professional sports are played out very publicly.  You, whether you like it or not, are a very important part of this process.  Your emotion, and your love for your players and team, are leverage, plain and simple.

No one is more aware of this than the people who represent the players.  Their job is to get the best possible deal for their clients.  If that means using the media, or playing on public emotion will help the cause, then it's game on.  It doesn't have to be this way, but many times this is the path these things take.  The process to ultimately get Batum signed to a long-term deal definitely crossed into this territory, as you know.

As many times as I've seen negotiations like this play out, I should know better than to start buying into rhetoric and getting nervous over well-placed comments.  That's probably why I wouldn't make a good general manager.  Say what you want about Olshey, he handled this whole thing as well you possibly could.  For the most part he stayed above it all, and outside of a couple of minor jabs at Minnesota, never blinked.

Because of Batum's status as a restricted-free agent, the Blazers controlled his final destination from the start, and Olshey reminded everyone of that anytime he was asked.  

Olshey was also so confident in all of this because he was in constant communication with two very important people in this process- Paul Allen, and Nic Batum- even if Batum's agent didn't know it.  Even after some comments, attributed to Batum, made it into the media about Minnesota being his "dream" destination, Olshey didn't appear to sweat.

"Nic never said that," Olshey said on Wednesday.  "Let's be very clear, Nic made a couple of comments at the behest of the Minnesota Timberwolves and his agent.  That was their agenda.  That was never Nicolas' agenda.  If I wasn't in constant contact with the kid, I wouldn't tell you that.  I can tell you Nicolas called me after those articles went out and said, look, they asked me to do this, they put me up to it.  It's not me.  I just want to talk to you directly.  I don't want my agent to know or the team to know.  I just want you and I to be on the same page.  He always wanted to be back in Portland."

That part I very much believe, despite what you've heard.  And, I know for a fact Batum reached out to Olshey early in this process, directly, to try and clear up comments that had circulated, and to assure management that he still very much wanted to be back.  Batum was getting very uncomfortable with the way this was playing out, and knew that in an attempt to gain leverage, his relationship with Portland fans could potentially be damaged.  

"I think he (Batum) would have liked to do the deal straight up, just like I would have, but he listened to his representative, and that's his right," said Olshey.  "The Portland fan base should in no way resent Nicolas Batum for this."

To be fair, it's an agent's right to use any means necessary to get his client the best possible deal.  Would Batum have gotten this four-year deal if Minnesota hadn't been willing to roll the dice and be involved in this game?  Maybe not.  Was it worth it for Batum and his agent?  Most likely, yes.  Was it worth it for the Timberwolves?  They seem to think so, even if it was a very loud swing and miss.

There are ways of handling situations like this that perhaps wouldn't have had to get so emotional, at least as far as the fans are concerned, but no agent will apologize for ultimately getting his client a big contract.  The agent though doesn't have to deal with the potential fallout of a fan base that, for a moment perhaps, questioned loyalty.  The player does. Batum will do his best to address all of this in the near future.  

The process is what it is.  That's what we've been told, and time will help settle any ruffled feathers.  

At least it's over now.  Batum is a Blazer, and will now have to deal with new and improved expectations.  Olshey acknowledged that angle of this story, and obviously wants to see a return on this investment.

"What matters is Nicolas accepts the responsibility that he's going to be held to a higher standard now," Olshey said.  "He's in a leadership position.  He's one of the higher-paid players at his position, and I know he wants to embrace that and have a bigger role on the team on a daily basis."

In other words, Olshey doesn't sound like he's afraid to toss down a challenge, and expects Batum to respond, as he should.

For Nic, he's just relieved he can turn the page and move forward.  People tend to forget he's only 23 (Damian Lillard just turned 22).  But, Batum, like it or not, is now considered an NBA veteran, and is certainly now a veteran of the business side of basketball.  


  1. Thanks Mike!

    Never doubted it but still it's nice to hear it for certain. I think Nic's agent got a bit carried away and some things were said that were not in his client's best interests.

    Time to put all this behind us and Go Blazers!

    by dgpdx on 7/18/2012 9:36 PM
  2. PS - For all those who were saying Nic's not worth the money, Denver just gave McGee even more for 4 years.

    by dgpdx on 7/18/2012 9:39 PM
  3. @dgpdx I think you're spot on. I don't think the "his heart isn't in Portland anymore" comments were necessary. He was going to get that offer sheet without that comment. But it's done now, he's a Blazer, and we love him because of that. Interested to see what he does in the Olympics & how much confidence that gives him going into this year.

    by Richard Ackerman on 7/18/2012 10:02 PM
  4. Part of me thinks Batum said he wanted to go to Minny because he wanted to set the bar for the Blazers. Batum knows that Portland would match and I believe them. He knows they've been talking about how he is going to be a crucial part of this "rebuilding". He knows that. But part of me thinks that he was saying something to Olshey and Allen to get a coach and a point guard. I think we've got the point guard we need, could use a mentor but cmon we've seen the two games in Summer League. Now we need the coach, and the search is on.

    Or, that could be some speculation, but I still don't get why Batum would want to be in Minnesota. Rubio isn't a proven point guard and that team has nothing to brag about. Love, although a good player, isn't the best PF and anyone that thinks so is a fool. Rubio's still unproven and Roy is likely going to leave in 2 years anyways.

    by Herr on 7/18/2012 10:29 PM
  5. Hey Mike: thank you for the blog, summer time is so long without your blog updates. I know there was nothing until now to report, and I like most faithful fans, never doubted that Batum would remain a Blazer, as you far warned us this would happen and not to believe all we read in the media. Although i read Blazers Edge all the time and was reading the constant barrage of he ain't worth it, I felt he was. I did have my doubts when speculations started popping up about who we could trade for, but that was because I wasn't getting any FEED BACK from MIKE & MLKE☺.
    I loved it when Olshey told the reporters to let the FO worry about the money and whether Batum was worth it or not, and for them to worry about the players output. That was my stand from the beginning, You said countless times that cap space was temporary assets, and Snipper Jones said that cap space couldn't win games, so you spend cap space on players and it becomes a asset trade not a asset lost. I was trying to explain that to Sarah Hachet, but failed misably at it. Anyway all has ended and ended well, and we get to keep my Batum.

    by Hg on 7/19/2012 3:27 AM
  6. On a little different subject, but still about Batum and the Blazers, I do believe that DLill will be a fantastic PG, Not so much that he is that much greater then others, but because of his chip on his shoulder, his humble desire to improve and be the best he can be, his work ethics and being with Wesley a fellow gym rat that has a chip on his shoulder also.
    To tie all this in with Batum, I think DLill will make Batum worth lots more, by just making his teammates better. Batum is good, as part of his inconsistencies came from inconsistency from his teammates. I do believe in synergy, and that is important in keeping Batum as he, maybe to a fault concedes to the hot hand and will pass to fellow players if his shot is not going in. PLUS, He has been used on all the opponents’ best players on D. With DLill, playing D, Wesley, Batum, LaMarcus and Leonard, and hopefully Joel Przybilla, our team D should take a back seat to none. I would mention Freeland and Claver and JJ also but don't know that much about them, or where they fit in.

    by Hg on 7/19/2012 3:55 AM
  7. So glad that Batum is back. I remember when he returned to Portland for a sit down meeting with Blazer brass at The Nines. His expression seemed to express that he wasn't happy with the process, not with the Blazers. I, for one, look forward to him being relied on more. I hope the new coach utilizes his talents and doesn't plant him in a corner in the offensive sets. I hope there are plays to break Nic loose for easy 2's.

    by Jeffery Phillips on 7/19/2012 8:46 AM
  8. I had little doubt Nic would be back. To not have him back would have left us in a massive world of hurt at the SF position. Our other guys who could play that position are either rookies, undersized, or mediocre back-ups at best. In a league where SF is in increasingly important position, we just couldn't have that.

    I do absolutely believe what Olshey said about Nic being put up to the things he said about wanting to move to Minnesota. The T-wolves have had it in for us for some time, so anything they could do to try to screw Portland over was a chance worth taking in their eyes.

    So I don't hold any resentment about what happened in the Batum negotiations....yet. Now if Batum comes out this next year, starts strong, and then gets lost in the corner on offensive rotations, and doesn't bring his A game defensively that we all know he's capable of, then I may have to rethink that.

    by soulseeker on 7/19/2012 11:44 AM
  9. @soulseeker; You are seeking out problems before we have them ☺; I know exactly where you are coming from, although in reality we have a new team, a new coach, a new GM and a new president. So all should not be the same.
    I like what I think the starting 5 is: DLill, Wesley, Batum, LMA and Leonard.
    The next 5: Nolan, EWill, Babbitt, or Claver, JJ, Freeland. What do you think?

    by Hg on 7/19/2012 12:17 PM
  10. I was very surprised when those comments surfaced. I had a really hard time imagining why Batum wanted out so bad, and why he would be so public about it. It's not that i know Nicolas but from what I've heard and seen, he has a very quiet confidence, and is not one spout his opinion unless asked, and even then is quite modest. It wouldn't have felt the same without Nic here, and i hope Portland fans don't fall into the medias sensationalized traps. Nic has put in a lot of hard work for this team and is now here to stay.

    by Thansen36 on 7/19/2012 12:51 PM
  11. Don't think for a minute the Blazers wouldn't have let Batum go. If the price to keep him would have been WAY over the top, he would be gone. Nic is worth the money. Maybe the price was on the high side but he is young with a high ceiling.
    Remember how we got Matthews. Everyone around the league thought we paid too much. He was a perfect Jerry Sloan type player yet Utah thought the price was too high. Linsanity could sell more seats in NY than even their stars. The Knicks thought the price was too high.
    Remember what the Blazers told Nic back in January. They didn't get a deal done and said "lets let the rest of the league determine your value." They got their wish. Good job Nic.
    Good job Minnesota. They are in the western conference and they ate up some of our cap space. It was a win win for them from the beginning. We did the same thing to Indiana. They matched and spent more money than they wanted to.
    One final thought. There is a rivalry now against Minnesota. Believe me, they have already circled the games they play against Portland. Roy is no longer a Blazer. He is the enemy. I hope he stays healthy but goes 0-0-0 against the Blazers.

    by Divotking on 7/19/2012 3:35 PM
  12. I like the potential in Nick's game but no matter what, if other people control the words coming out of your mouth, at the very least your a puppet but the main word that comes to mind is "PUNK". Stand tall Nick, take responsibility for the things you said or let your agent say. Fans are not stupid and most of us could forgive a momentary lapse in judgement, because most of us were 23 at one point in our lives. Start earning that contract now by issuing an honest apology to your fans for everything that was said during this contract fiasco.

    by mbmurr1 on 7/19/2012 9:14 PM
  13. As far as the price of the contract. I feel lack of front office cost the team and that is directly the fault of the OWNER, Nick should have been paid around 8-9 million a year and given a 5 year extension for Christmas. So, everything is not Nick's fault. Sometimes when you push a YOUNG man into a corner thing are said in the heat of the moment.

    by mbmurr1 on 7/19/2012 9:23 PM
  14. I'm glad to see Batum safely back in the fold. He has been my favorite player for a long time, in part because of the traits that many hold against him. He's a team player, who will make the pass that's there--and make it well--and he doesn't have the ego that asserts itself at the expense of the game situation. He was stuck in a limited role because that's how his coach used him; I assume that whoever coaches this squad will put an end to that neglect. Much of my frustration last season was that the Gerald Wallace experiment pushed Nic into the background at the moment he should have been asked to step forward. I was worried by the statements he made about wanting to be in Minnesota, but now feel reassured. It wasn't like him to make what sounded like demands, and I expect that he'll be his old self when camp opens: a consumate team player who will do what he's asked to help the team win.

    by David Maclaine on 7/20/2012 12:43 PM
  15. @Hg
    I agree with you on the starting five, and I'm really looking forward to seeing those guys in action. I see a lot of versatility there, and a very, very strong running team there.
    For the other 5, I have to wonder who's going to be the go-to back-up center. Don't we still have Joel Pryzbilla? I see him being more of 15-20 mpg backup center for us. I also don't know much about Claver or Freeland's game so can't really comment there. From watching the summer league, I think Barton deserves a look in there somewhere as well, maybe as a swing 2-3? I realize 6'6" is a bit small for a SF, but he seems to play bigger than his size alone would indicate.

    by soulseeker on 7/20/2012 4:06 PM
  16. @soulseeker: Yes after watching the summer league, I think Barton really deserves a look. Joel Przybilla is a UFA, and I keep thinking we might pick him up, for the 3rd string Center, but with that last trade with the Celtics we have now a full team.
    I am thinking that we have acquired some strange assets in the dealings with NYK and the Celtics, that another trade may be in the makings that involve some of the 2nd round picks and maybe Babbitt has he doesn't seem to be doing real great in the Summer league and Barton is, for another impact player or another Center.
    LaMarcus, although he doesn't like the physical part of being a center will more then likely be the center when we go small. Although if he is paired up with JJ, it is about the same as JJ being the center and LMA being the PF, or maybe LMA playing the high post like Camby and Kurt Thomas did and JJ or Freeland playing the low post.
    This is just my daydreamings and thoughts so I am not sure about the second five either.

    by Hg on 7/20/2012 5:59 PM
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