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It's a seller's market, for a number of reasons. There are plenty of teams that entered this offseason with potential cap space, the NBA was anxious to work through its first full offseason in two years, Dwight Howard and Deron Williams were more or less off the table to trade or sign for, and there weren't that many great free agents to throw money at. Even with all that in play, though, the hubbub over Portland Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum seems wildly out of place.
For the last week and a half we've heard rumors that the Minnesota Timberwolves are set to offer Batum a four-year deal worth around $46 million, which absolutely boggles our baby brains. In a more boggling move, Portland is apparently considering matching the contract offer to the restricted free agent, which would put an unhappy Batum right back in Portland to play for a team that might be pretty unhappy it was forced to spend $11 million a year on the versatile forward. Then Batum and new Portland GM Neil Olshey (we should remember this: Olshey never drafted Batum, and should have no sentimentality that ranges to the $11 million a year strata) got in a pissy war of words over Batum's desire to play in Minnesota.
Oh, also: Minnesota hasn't actually sent Portland the offer sheet. There's no deal, technically, for Portland to either match or decline. These two teams can't even make bad mistakes on time.
There are reasons why Batum was offered as much money. He's an athletic wing with strengths in several different areas, and the terms that Minnesota was reported to have fake-thrown his way falls right in line with what similar forwards like Chicago's Luol Deng, Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala, and Brooklyn's Gerald Wallace are making. There is strong and sound analysis that leads some to believe that Batum's play was hamstrung by Nate McMillan's "everybody go wait in the corner!"-offense, and he'd only be 27 by the time the contract wraps up.
Of course, Deng and Iguodala have been involved in trade rumors since just months after they put pen to paper on their extensions, and I don't know any NBA analysts that wouldn't consider Brooklyn's re-signing of Wallace (irrespective of the lottery pick it wasted to get him, we swear) the worst of the offseason thus far.
There's only one real reason that Batum's figures have jumped this high, be they unofficial or eventually tangible. Minnesota has the money. Or, at least, it will have the money after a series of smaller moves (using the amnesty clause on Darko Milicic, trading Wayne Ellington for an unguaranteed deal) are executed.
They had the cap space in a so-so offseason, they had to use it before Kevin Love's contract extension hit, and they had to overpay just to get the also-rebuilding Trail Blazers to balk at the terms. Lockout be damned, Minnesota is spending just to spend.
And Batum, in an attempt to dissuade Portland from dissuading Minnesota's spending just to spend, has spent some time firing lobs back at the Blazers about how much he wants to play for the team that he's just a few months removed from purporting to want to stay with.
Some Portland-area columnists aren't really taking to Batum's public pronouncements, mainly because they have no real bearing on whether or not the Blazers eventually decide to pick up on the potential offer sheet. The Columbian's Matt Calkins is one. For, uh, one:
For three days now, the Trail Blazers' restricted free agent has been on record saying that his preferred destination is Minnesota. Additionally, his denials of his agent's claims that he wants "no part" of Portland have come with about as much force as an uncontested finger roll.
Obviously, Batum cannot control his feelings. But he can control his actions. And while it's difficult to find many players more graceful than the Frenchman on the basketball court, it's even harder to find one who has been clumsier during this free-agency period.
He's not wrong. Batum could drive a Hummer down a Portland bike lane while chugging a macrobrew (sportswriter joke) and it really wouldn't make a lick of difference. He didn't want to chance playing for the qualifying offer ($4.3 million, were he to sign it for 2012-13) this season in order to hit unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2013, and this is the price he pays.
Unease. About which team will wildly overpay him.
OK, maybe not "wildly" overpay. And we'll remind you that last year the Timberwolves offered up the sorriest batch of wings we've seen since Paul McCartney's last Super Bowl party (now THAT'S a sportswriter joke!), mixing honest-to-goodness playoff talent up front and up top with a shockingly poor series of 2s and 3s. Batum fits, and in working with Rick Adelman, he could possibly develop into a borderline All-Star at the three, at least in terms of production (it's hard to make that team out West). Minnesota, after last season, will just settle for competency.
They're willing to wait, though, mindful of the fact that Batum wants to be there and doesn't have many other options. Sign and trades have been discussed, but why would the Wolves want to send out players on rookie deals away just to acquire the space needed to bump Batum's deal up to $46.5 over four years with ease? Then again, why would they promise that their offer sheet would be in Portland's hands to act upon by the end of Thursday, only to have us all working on Friday wondering if Minnesota is ever going to make its move?
And why are we doing all of this, over Nicolas Batum?