Here’s what we know so far.
David Kahn is intolerably patient.
The Nicolas Batum saga has reached its seemingly 1,000th hour and the matter of his free agency remains unresolved. We’ve seen this superhuman patience from Kahn before. When he took over as GM three years ago he took weeks to fire Kevin McHale, something we all knew was a foregone conclusion. After dispatching Kurt Rambis a year ago he took months to hire a replacement. To Kahn’s credit, his patience resulted in the hiring of one of the all-time great NBA head coaches in Rick Adelman. So it shouldn’t be a total surprise that Kahn has stalked the Blazers in his pursuit of Batum with incredible diligence and resolve.
The Wolves want Batum. Badly. Both Rick Adelman and David Kahn believe he’s the perfect fit. From Adelman’s point of view, Batum is an athletic wing who can defend, run the open court, and knock down jumpers at a high rate. Those qualities are a combination the Wolves weren’t getting from anyone last season. From Kahn’s perspective, Batum is all of the things I just mentioned but also young enough to form an OKC-esque core with Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and to an extent, Derrick Williams and Nikola Pekovic
The problem is Portland feels the same way. The Blazers, whether they want to admit it or not, are headed in the wrong direction. They won’t make the playoffs next year and they know it. They’ve got a star in LaMarcus Aldridge. They’ve got someone they hope will be a star in Batum. They’ve got a good shooter in Wesley Mathews. Outside of those three they have a couple of mid-level prospects in Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard, and the crushed dreams of a franchise to be built around Greg Oden and Brandon Roy. Injuries are a bitch.
So Portland knows they can’t lose one of their two legitimate pieces in Batum for nothing. They also know that whatever the Wolves offer him is going to be more than he’s worth. Even if it’s for the bare minimum reported amount of 11 million a year, the Blazers will be over the cap with almost nothing to show for it. If the Wolves raise that, which they probably will, or include a trade kicker, which they definitely will, it will make the contract even more difficult for Portland to swallow. But they basically have to.
Of course, the other option is for Portland to let Batum walk, save the cap space, and embrace the inevitable rebuild. However, the x-factor here is that there’s a fair amount of ego and pride in play with Blazers GM, Neil Olshey, and owner, Paul Allen. This whole Batum thing has escalated into one giant pissing contest and no one wants to look like the loser in all of it.
Thankfully, there is an end in sight. On Friday the Wolves executed a flurry of moves in order to clear the cap space necessary to make an official offer to Batum, which he will accept. The Wolves need to let one of their cuts, Martell Webster, clear waivers before they can officially submit the offer. That will be at 4:00 PM central time on Sunday. From there, the Blazers have 72 hours to match the offer or let Batum walk. So by Wednesday evening at the latest this matter will be resolved…I hope. If I were forced to put odds on it I’d say there’s a 20% chance the Wolves and Blazers work out a sign and trade deal before they submit his offer sheet on Sunday, a 65% chance the Blazers match the offer sheet and keep Batum, and a 15% chance Batum is simply allowed to leave Portland for greener pastures in Minnesota.
With or without Batum, it’s been a pretty successful offseason so far. Although admittedly, losing out on Batum will make it feel like a failure given how aggressive they’ve been in trying to get him. The void of talent at the wing positions last year was the team’s glaring weakness. Kahn has answered that by acquiring Chase Budinger, Brandon Roy and Russian prospect, Alexey Shved. All three are upgrades over last year’s group. The positional depth as is looks like…
* Great PG depth. Barea and Shved can play both guard positions.
Wings – Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, Wesley Johnson
* Throw Batum into this mix and their main weakness becomes a strength.
Forwards – Derrick Williams
* Williams will play both forward spots depending on the matchups.
Bigs – Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic
* The lack of depth right now beyond these two is somewhat alarming. They need a rim protector. The odds on favorite is Greg Steisma, a shot blocking big who spent last year with Boston.
Finally, we need to accept that the Batum plan may very well never come to fruition. After him, there are three big names that are getting tossed around.
OJ Mayo (UFA) – Mayo would be the flashiest acquisition but I think he’s also the most unlikely. He’ll demand a high salary and doesn’t seem to fit the mold of player Adelman likes. The wildcard is if Kahn feels like he needs to do something big to overcome the letdown of missing out on Batum.
Courtney Lee (UFA) – Lee is the most likely get. He’s familiar with Adelman from their Houston days. Plus, he’s the pure shooting defender the Wolves are looking for. Rumors are that he wants to come here, as well, and that he’s intentionally put off signing with Boston until he sees how the Batum thing plays out.
Andre Igoudala (76ers) – Igoudala would be my choice. Philadelphia wants to unload him, evidence by the fact that they’ve picked up three players who all play his position since the draft. I’d take Iggy because it would be a statement about this team's intention of competing at a high level but also adding an elite class defender – another major team need. A starting 5 of Rubio-Roy-Igoudala-Love-Pekovic would be pretty dynamic. The major problem here isn’t so much his $15 mil per year salary (although it is pretty gaudy), but the fact that he has a player option after next season, and I can’t see the Wolves wanting to lock him up to a long term deal when the intention right now is to throw the bulk of their money into Love, Rubio, Williams and Pekovic. That being said, if they could get him in a salary dump it might just be worth it.
Ok, that’s all for now. Stay tuned.