The Portland Trail Blazers have officially matched the Minnesota Timberwolves four-year, $46 million deal for restricted free agent Nicolas Batum. The decision was announced by Portland general manager Neil Olshey this afternoon, ended weeks of posturing by Olshey, Minnesota GM David Kahn and Bouna Ndiaye (Batum's agent), with Olshey following through on his pre-free agency promise to match any offer made to Batum.
By matching the offer, the Trail Blazers have to see Batum as a big piece of the team's rebuilding efforts, as you don't pay a player an average of $11.5 million per season to not be a significant contributor. The contract also reportedly has a 15% trade kicker, which means that if Portland wants to trade Batum over the next four seasons, they'll need to pay him 15% of what he's still owed. While I don't see Batum as a $10+ million per year player in the league, he's still just 23 years old, and still the time to continue to develop his game.
My main issues with him receiving this contract is that he hasn't put up the kind of numbers you'd expect (career highs of 13.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks per game in '11-'12). When watching him play, Batum also tends to disappear for stretches during games. While this can at least in part be attributed to former head coach Nate McMillan's offensive schemes (which largely consisted of Batum spotting up in the corner and waiting for a kick-out), Batum can't allow his effort be affected by whether or not he's getting as many offensive touches as he'd like.
Batum will enter next season for the Blazers as the unquestioned starter at small forward, and should see a larger role in the offense. Neil Olshey has been running interviews to find the team's new head coach, and whoever the coach will need to do a better job than McMillan in utilizing Batum on the offensive side of the ball.
While Portland was able to retain Batum, they likely cost themselves a lot more money by not signing him to an extension this past season. Then-interim general manager Chad Buchanan apparently didn't make a competitive offer to Batum during the season, though I suspect that owner Paul Allen was really pulling the strings in the negotiations. I stated in early March that low-balling Batum could backfire. By matching the offer sheet, the Blazers aren't so much paying Batum for what he's done to this point in his career (10.2 points, 3.9 rebounds), but what he could become over the next four seasons. Paying potential is always a risky bet...only time will tell whether this was a good bet or not.