Well, by now you’ve all heard. Nicolas Batum’s heart is no longer in Portland according to his agent, Bouna Ndiaye, whom most of us know all too well. Ndiaye expressed that his client did not want the Blazers to get in the way of “his dreams to play in Minnesota.” He has asked for a trade to the T’Wolves and now the Blazers are in a tough spot, much like the New Orleans Hornets are in a tough spot with their restricted free-agent Eric Gordon. They either trade away or let a player walk who was thought to be a major part of a new direction for both teams, or they bring this player back against his will, with a lot of deteriorated relationships that will need rebuilding.
This is uncomfortable for Portland even though it’s not as ugly as New Orleans’ situation with Gordon. Minnesota makes a lot of sense if you are Nicolas Batum. He gets to walk into an offense where his role is going to involve more freedom. Also, there isn’t a lot of pressure on him to get the offense going. He gets to play on the wing around so many other talented offensive players in Minnesota. They have the game’s best power forward in Kevin Love and one of the game’s most exciting young point guards in Ricky Rubio. Oh yeah, and they just signed Brandon Roy too.
Batum is key to Portland’s “reloading” process after failing to make the playoffs for the first time in three years. However, Minnesota is coming off a year when they became the darlings of the league, much like Portland in the early Brandon Roy days. There is excitement in Minnesota and optimism, if Batum goes to Minneapolis or even if he doesn’t. His departure would be a significant blow to Portland. CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger reported on twitter that Brandon Rush would be a plan B for whichever team does not get Nicolas Batum. Yikes.
The Pacers are still apparently “on the fence” about matching the contract the Portland offered their restricted free agent Roy Hibbert. They have reportedly considered alternatives to matching the offer to Hibbert but the way in which Hibbert and the Pacers have handled their end of the deal, as Jared Wade at Eight Points, Nine Seconds, wrote allows for a smooth return if Hibbert does end up returning to Indiana.
Batum, although apparently with no hard feelings for Portland, has soured his relationship with the fans and possibly his teammates. You’re now left in Portland with a situation where you either lose talent or the player is somewhere he doesn’t want to be. Portland is without a coach and a team president. They have a direction but they do not have a vehicle to take them in that way. There is no system. The future of the Blazers will continue to be shrouded in uncertainty until they hire a coach. But, things will start to become a little clearer as the moratorium on free agents being able to sign ends on July 11th.
So, what should Portland do?
From everything I’ve read and discussing with many people it seems that despite all of the statements that his heart is no longer in Portland or that he wants to be “free,” Portland has to re-sign him. His ability to score at his position is far better than the alternatives and his defense is far better than any other small forward. He is the only small forward on the market that is an effective starter. Portland has dealt with this feeling before from Rudy Fernandez. New Orleans likely will deal with the same situation with Eric Gordon. Multiple times Utah had to deal with Andrei Kirilenko’s displeasure in his location. Yet, the rules are the rules and Batum will just have to deal with being overpaid in the same place he has played the last four seasons. Keeping Batum is not what will get Portland over the hump, but losing him would create a negative impact too great to be able to recover with the back-up plans at their disposal this offseason.Missing out on Hibbert would be unfortunate. However, at least there is a plan B that can deliver at the same caliber and even at a higher one, despite presenting a bigger risk in JaVale McGee. My friend Sean Highkin from Portland Roundball Society has been clamoring for Paul Allen to throw the checkbook at Pierre for quite sometime. McGee, like Hibbert, is a restricted free agent and Portland would again be waiting on another team, this time division rival Denver, to match a deal that will likely be near or at the max.
But at least if Indiana matches the deal for Hibbert, there is a Plan B and one that could even end up better than Plan A. They can sign a player like Aaron Gray who is at least an efficient rebounder if both don’t work out which would still be an improvement over Joel Pryzbilla, Kurt Thomas or the inexperienced Myers Leonard.
Losing Batum, especially with the ball in their court would be too big of a blow for Portland to handle. Losing out on both centers would be unfortunate for Portland but those decisions are out of their control. Batum’s future in Portland lies in the hands of management and they cannot blink. Also, even if they miss on the top-two centers in this free agent class, you can’t quantify the loss of something you never had. Seeing Batum flourish in Minnesota, not to mention playing him four times a year with a young, exciting team next to Brandon Roy would be too tough for Portland to handle.
Portland doesn’t owe Batum anything and his four years in the league has not earned him enough capital to demand a trade this way.
He may be dreaming of Minnesota but the rules of restricted free agency should keep him in Portland.
C’est la vie, Nic.
Update (July 9th, 2012 3:03 PM): Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star reported on Twitter earlier today that Pacers will match Portland’s 4-year $58 Million deal.