Nicolas Batum was always the favorite to be Portland's starting small forward come the start of the 2010-11 season. And after Martell Webster was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Ryan Gomes and the draft rights to Luke Babbitt, Batum's chances of locking down the starting spot for the foreseeable future went from great to all but guaranteed.
Given that, you might assume Portland's favorite Frenchman was ecstatic with the team's decision to send Webster to the North Star State, but when asked about the move Thursday night, Batum was more affected by the loss of a trusted teammate than the idea of not having to fight for minutes on the wing.
"I just wish the best for Martell," said Batum. "That's a great player, a great guy. I think (the trade) was the best for him and his family."
Not that he wasn't flattered by the confidence Portland's coaches and front office staff have in his ability to assume the role of the team's long searched for solution at small forward, but the desire for pre-determined playing time has always been far down the list of issues he concerns himself with.
"We talk about (increased playing time) with Coach Nate," said Batum. "He want to put me more on the court, to be more involved in the game, but I just try to do my best. I want to win a title as soon as possible with this team. I only want to win. If I can play 30, 35 minute or 15, 10 minutes, I don't care. Just give 100 percent every time on the court."
Batum got his shot thanks to Webster's year long foot injury in 2008, a favor Webster returned when Batum started the year on the IR after shoulder surgery, so their relationship was defined more by their ability to fill in for each other rather than a need to compete for minutes. That spirit of sharing the position as opposed to fighting over it carried over to the times when both were healthy, with Batum operating as the lockdown defending ying to Webster's outside shooting yang. So it's no surprise that, when asked what he'll miss most about his former teammate, Batum emphasized the two traits he himself had tried to provide in Webster's absence: long-range shooting and smiles.
"His 3-point shot was just crazy," said Batum was a chuckle. "I remember in January when he hit 45 three's in one month. That was just crazy. So we're going to miss his 3-point shot, his intensity on the court. And even Martell off the court. He just enjoyed life. He was smiling every time. I really wish him the best."