TUALATIN, Ore. — It’s rare that players interviewed at the Trail Blazers practice facility are sitting down during the Q&A. But Nicolas Batum likely needed the rest.
This restricted free-agency period has been anything but relaxing for the Frenchman, and when he signed his reported 4-year, $46.5 million contract with Portland Friday, it concluded weeks of stress and speculation.
“Finally,” Batum said. “It’s been a long process. I’m glad to be back…I’m just glad this thing is done and that we can move on.”
A couple months after completing his fourth season with the Blazers, in which he averaged a career-high 13.9 points and 4.6 rebounds, Batum tested the market as a restricted free agent in late June and early July. The primary suitor was the Minnesota Timberwolves, who offered the 23-year-old a hefty deal, which the
Blazers matched on Wednesday.
But during the process, Batum said that he wanted to play in Minnesota, which — when combined with stronger anti-Portland statements from his agent — triggered several days of uncertainty as well as hostility.
Batum’s explanation for his comments?
“When I came back last week, I believed Minnesota, and then I talked to my agency and said, ‘I want to go to Portland, I want meet them and see what they have to say,’ and when I landed ‘I felt like I was home,” Batum said. “It’s not maybe the most exciting city in the world. Trust me, because I’m from Paris and it’s bigger and there are more things to do. But I felt like I was home, and I feel great to be here.”
The strange thing is, Batum made his comments about wanting to be in Minnesota after he visited Portland. Pressed on the issue, he confessed that the Timberwolves’ coaching staff (which includes former Blazers assistant Bill Bayno) was that franchise’s primary allure. He added that New Orleans was another team that captured his interest because of the staff, which is led by former Portland assistant Monty Williams.
And while Batum was not apologetic about his handling of the situation — asked if he could do anything over again during the process given the chance, he responded “have a better season last year,” — he did praise Blazer supporters, repeatedly calling them “the best fans in the world.” He added that he is worried about how he will be received when the season starts next year, and recalls telling his girlfriend, “imagine if the Blazers don’t match. I don’t want have to go against those guys (the fans.)”
Regardless of whether Portland is Batum’s ideal location, it’s tough for him to argue against the size of his contract. While he was initially “99 percent sure” that the Blazers would match any potential offer, he admitted to doubting that they would match once he got the offer sheet from Minnesota.
“I didn’t expect them to match it,” Batum said. “It showed me that they are willing to give more than I thought.”
Batum also expressed delight in Portland’s pursuit of Phil Jackson and Jerry Sloan during this head-coaching search, saying that it shows the team is serious about success. But as far as what kind of coach he would like to see hired now, Batum was non-specific, answering questions about style and his role with vague generalizations.
Still, even if he struggles to find on-court satisfaction, he does have financial fulfillment. First order of business?
“Buy a big house for my mom in France.”