PORTLAND — After Friday night, the season of reunions of beloved Blazers past will have its final welcome back moment when Nicolas Batum and his Charlotte Hornets play Portland Friday.
It will be Batum’s first game in the Moda Center as a visitor after spending seven seasons with the team.
Batum was traded to Charlotte just before the NBA draft in exchange for Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh, which was the start of a complete roster overhaul this summer that saw 80 percent of the starting line-up for the last two years switch teams.
But Batum’s case is different and he wants to make it very clear to Blazers fans: leaving was not his choice.
“I ain’t left by myself,” Batum said after Charlotte’s Friday morning shoot around. “That’s it. I mean I understand the business side of this league but I spent seven great years here. We have great memories, some up and down.”
Batum has only one regret looking back on his time as a Blazer.
“The only regret I have is maybe free agency,” Batum said. “The way things went, my agent, what I said. I’m glad they matched. I’m glad they matched, trust me.”
The night will carry a lot of meaning for Batum, who always wears his emotions, good or bad, on his sleeve.
“I spent seven years in the same locker room, same bench, coming back after 6-7 months on the other side it’s kind of weird,” Batum said. “It’s going to be a special night for me to be back. It’s a good feeling to be back here. This is one of the best arenas in the NBA, biggest or craziest fans in the league too.”
It also means a lot for his current team (22-24), who are in a brutal playoff battle in the Eastern Conference as they try and get healthy as a team. But they may get a boost on Friday as Michael Kidd-Gilchrist — whose season was once thought to be lost thanks to shoulder surgery — is listed as questionable and went through the team’s shoot around. Batum hopes the return of MKG can solidify their playoff positioning.
After the Hornets practiced Thursday at the University of Portland, Batum took a stroll in his former home city.
“This city hasn’t changed,” Batum said. “This city won’t change. That’s what I like about this town.”
The only thing Batum wishes was different about Portland was the sudden sunshine over the past few days.
“It was raining for the last 6-7 days then we get 2 days of sun? That’s messed up. I need some rain,” Batum said.
Batum, too, has changed.
After everything that’s gone down, Batum is hoping for a nice reception after a seven-year journey together, even throwing bones to Northwest sports fans by congratulating the Portland Timbers on an MLS title and sending his condolences to Seahawks fans.
“I’m glad I’m back here for a night, it will be a weird, special night,” Batum said. “I hope it will be a good welcome back.”
Damian Lillard and Terry Stotts both believe he will receive a warm welcome and Lillard especially is fond of his time with Batum.
“I always remember my rookie year and my second year, 5 minutes or less he would give me a tap and say, ‘there’s still time, take over the game,'” Lillard said. “Just being so young and having someone whose been part of this team and has a lot of confidence, that always means a lot to me.”
“You could see it from Day 1,” Batum said. “During his rookie season I said it was time for you to take over and show people who you are. I think I was right. I won’t take all the credit for Dame.”