Free Agent Stock Watch: Nicolas Batum

Nicolas Batum’s comments last week, in which he called Portland “special” and said he expects to return to the Blazers next year unless a better situation presents itself, represent quite a change from earlier this season. Soon after Batum and the team failed to come to terms on an extension in January, making him a restricted free agent at season's end, Batum’s agent, Bouna Ndiaye, had some harsh words for Blazer management, as Joe Freeman of The Oregonian noted. "They say they love him but they didn't offer him something fair, so that's it," he said. "We tried and there's no deal. On July 1 we're going to look at the market first before we come back to the Blazers. That's for sure."

Whether or not Batum wants to return to Portland, the team resisted trading him at the deadline, and team president Larry Miller has said the team plans on bringing him back, as long as another team doesn't make a "crazy" offer, Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune reported. The Blazers have the right to match any offer, but this indicates there is a ceiling on how much they value Batum. That's subject to change if the team winds up hiring someone to replace interim GM Chad Buchanan, especially since Batum seems like a hard player to properly evaluate. At 23 years old with a 7'1" wingspan, the 6'8" Batum possesses a tantalizing combination of the athleticism to guard multiple positions with an outside shooting touch, having hit 37.2% of his career three-pointers, including 39.1% this year. The problem for Batum, and for general managers, is that this is juxtaposed with inconsistency and less year-to-year improvement than you would expect from a player his age. His per-36-minutes numbers in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks have scarcely budged during his career, and his steadily climbing scoring average, up to 13.9 PPG this year, can be attributed to a corresponding rise in his number of field goal attempts.

The failure of the Blazers to get past the first round of the playoffs in his previous three seasons certainly can't be placed entirely on Batum's shoulders, but in each series, his points and minutes have fallen off from the regular season that preceded it. There are plenty of red flags on Batum's record, but he's still young enough to convince GMs that he can find that extra gear somewhere. He might be a fit for the Jazz, a team with a history of helping young talent develop, or the Raptors, who have coveted a small forward. It all depends on Miller's definition of "crazy," but I still don't think any team is going to go overboard for him. Eggers said he can expect a deal of about $9MM a year, which sounds right for a player of his potential, even if his numbers so far might not support it. Unless the Blazers change course with a new GM, they'll likely bring him back and hope Kaleb Canales or another coach can bring out his best.

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