He stands at 6-foot-8. He has the wingspan of a 7-footer. Everything about Nicolas Batum says long, long, long.
Except the way he’s thinking. That couldn’t be much shorter.
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.
Before I continue, I should say that I have long commended Batum for his candor and honesty. While most players say what they should think, he typically says what he does think. But like a man asked by his wife if her best friend is pretty, sometimes you gotta realize that honesty has its boundaries.
If you have been a Trail Blazer, and realize there is an extraordinary chance you will be a Trail Blazer for years to come, you do not say that you’d prefer to be somewhere else. This might work in Toronto, or Milwaukee, or Charlotte, where fans don’t know the player efficiency ratings for their team’s backup shooting guard.
But in Portland, where the Rose Garden crowd can make the deaf hear and the hearing deaf, declaring that, while you don’t mind it here, you would rather be in Minnesota is like telling your first-born son that, while you love him, you were really hoping for a girl.
It would be one thing if Batum were, say, J.J. Hickson, a player the Blazers rented for 19 games last season and recently signed to a one-year deal. If he made public that Portland was not his ideal location, fans would likely try to win him over.
But Nic has been here for four years. Nic is the player who, halfway through last season, said that he wanted to return to Portland because he felt like it was his second home. Nic is the guy that fans have been clamoring to retain no matter how much Minnesota offers.
But now, Nic is the guy those same fans will bludgeon if he remains a Blazer and doesn’t produce.
It’s forgivable to fall below expectations when you’ve appeared enthusiastic from day one. But when a team is paying you $45 million or so, which Portland may have to do to match another suitor’s offer, the public is far less understanding if they suspect you’re giving 99.99 percent or less.
Rudy Fernandez was never fully embraced after he stated his desire to return to Spain, and the boo birds rained down for four quarters when he came back to the Rose Garden as a Nugget. Raymond Felton, meanwhile, endured one of the more trying seasons in American sports last year when his lack of conditioning turned him into the fans’ and media’s piñata for four months.
That was tough to watch. But Nic should take note — the one thing worse than overweight … is overpaid.
Given the near circus-like level the Batum saga has reached with all of Minnesota’s posturing and pump-faking, we still don’t know where the 23-year-old will end up. But either way, Nic should start asking for forgiveness immediately.
Whether it’s through Twitter or the media, he needs to send the people of Rose City figurative bouquets and chocolates every day. He should recount his favorite memories from his time with the team, recite his favorite things about the town, and reiterate the inimitable nature of the Rose Garden crowd.
Why he decided to go public with his thoughts about Minnesota, I can’t say. He could have expressed those opinions to Blazers general manager Neil Olshey exclusively if he thought it would sway his course of action.
But now, given the likelihood of his return, he needs to clean up this mess so his fans can clean out their memory banks.
If not, no matter how much he struggles over the next four years, he’s going to earn his money.
Matt Calkins is the Trail Blazers beat writer at The Columbian. He can be contacted at 360-735-4528 or firstname.lastname@example.org