Notebook: Batum returns; Blazers receive an update about Koponen

PORTLAND — It took 45 games, but forward Nicolas Batum finally made a mark on the Trail Blazers’ 2009-10 season.

Batum, who is recovering from preseason shoulder surgery, was cleared to play before Portland’s game against the New Orleans Hornets on Monday at the Rose Garden.

Blazers coach Nate McMillan said Batum will slowly be worked into the team’s second rotation, and his minutes will initially be limited.

However, McMillan envisions Batum as a defensive-focused player who can lock down key opposing athletes.

Batum’s offensive rebounding ability, comfort running the fast break and playing in transition, and 3-point shooting prowess are also assets.

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Batum possesses a size advantage due to his long wingspan. And a variety of skills — namely footwork, focus and tenacity — made him one of the Blazers’ top defensive stoppers last year.

“Just a versatile player that can guard three positions,” McMillan said prior to tipoff. “And gives us a legitimate guy that we can put out on the floor.”

Batum averaged 5.4 points and 2.8 rebounds while starting 76 games as a rookie for Portland last season.

He was then slated to be the Blazers’ opening-day starter at the small forward position this year.

But Batum reinjured his right shoulder during training camp, after struggling with pain for months. He underwent surgery Oct. 26 to repair a torn labrum.

Two parts

Batum’s return also brings McMillan’s vision of the Blazers having two distinct units closer to reality.

Against the Hornets, Portland started Andre Miller, Steve Blake, Martell Webster, LaMarcus Aldridge and Jeff Pendergraph.

That left Batum, Jerryd Bayless, Rudy Fernandez, Juwan Howard and Dante Cunningham coming off the bench.

For the first time in recent memory, the Blazers had 10 healthy, available players.

And it presented McMillan with the opportunity to freely move pieces around in a manner that has not been an option since the team lost Fernandez and Greg Oden to injuries Dec. 1 during a home victory over Miami.

“Martell played 48 minutes last game,” McMillan said. “I’m sure he wouldn’t mind sharing a few minutes.”

Checking in

Mihailo Pavicevic, who coached Petteri Koponen for the Honka Espoo Playboys, attended Monday’s game.

The Blazers hold the rights to Koponen, who was originally selected by Philadelphia with the 30th overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft.

Koponen currently plays for Virtus Bologna, an Italian professional team.

Pavicevic was primarily in attendance because he was scheduled to meet with Blazer executives to discuss Koponen’s progress. The coach was also seen talking with two Portland assistants during pregame warmups.

Pavicevic said Koponen has made excellent progress during the last two seasons. He praised the guard’s overall talent, while specifically pointing out improvements on the defensive end of the floor.

“He’s been great this year,” Pavicevic said.

Koponen is ready to play in the NBA now, Pavicevic said.

But the Blazers’ depth in the backcourt — specifically at the 1-guard — is preventing Koponen from making the jump.

“I understand the Blazers’ position,” Pavicevic said.

However, Pavicevic said Koponen’s agent is pushing hard for the Finnish guard to enter the NBA, and added
that teams such as the Dallas Mavericks are highly interested in the 21-year-old phenom.

Blazers general manager Kevin Pritchard said Portland definitely appreciates Koponen’s value, but wants to see more development before making any moves.

“Here’s the thing we know about Petteri: He’s a phenomenal worker, and from that perspective, he’ll fit right in,” Pritchard said.

But the earliest Portland would likely add Koponen to its roster is next season, Pritchard said.

He added: “At some point in time, we’ve got to bring him over.”

In rhythm

McMillan said Fernandez has played well since returning to the lineup Jan. 13 following a microdisectomy.

Fernandez is averaging 7.6 points during a six-game stretch.

He poured in 19 points on 4-of-8 shooting and knocked down all 10 of his free-throw attempts during the Blazers’ 97-93 road victory over Detroit last Saturday.

Fernandez’s ability to take a serious body blow against the Pistons and quickly recover was a positive sign that he has returned to form, McMillan said.

One week

Roy, who is recovering from a strained right hamstring, is still at least a week away from being evaluated, McMillan said.

Roy leads the Blazers in average scoring (23.1) and ranks second in assists (5.0).

The two-time All-Star has missed five of Portland’s last six games due to the injury.

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