Portland Trail Blazers: Nicolas Batum's Role Must Be Defined

Bryant KnoxFeatured ColumnistJanuary 26, 2012

PHOENIX, AZ - JANUARY 14:  Nicolas Batum #88 of the Portland Trail Blazers reacts during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on January 14, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Suns defeated the 115-111.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers, following their disappointing loss to the Golden State Warriors Wednesday night, announced that they had failed to extend Nicolas Batum’s contract before the Jan. 25 deadline. Batum, once touted “untouchable” by Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan, will become a restricted free agent this offseason.

Despite the failed negotiation, Batum’s relationship with the Trail Blazers isn’t doomed—just unclear.

Batum was considered a deal-breaker just a season ago in early trade discussions that brought over former All-Star Gerald Wallace. But considering the difficulty that the team has had getting the two small forwards on the court this season, Batum’s role surely must be established before a long-term decision can be made.

Batum’s biggest asset at this point in his career just might be his potential. Drawing comparisons by some to legendary Chicago Bulls player Scottie Pippen, Batum’s game is still evolving as his stats rise from season to season.

Does he have any of Pippen’s game in him? Maybe. He’s long, defensive-minded and can shoot when necessary. But even he has stated that he would like his game to more closely resemble that of Detroit Piston Tayshaun Prince.

So how do you utilize a player whose ceiling is likely to sit somewhere between Pippen and Prince?

Give him minutes.

Potential that is wasted on the bench is useless. Overseas, Batum knows his role and thrives seemingly every time he hits the court. In the NBA, however, his role has been far less defined.

Following the surprise retirement of Brandon Roy in December, a slot opened for the Blazers to sign Jamal Crawford as the backup shooting guard. Crawford has helped fill the void, but with Portland’s guards getting criticized lately, why not slide Batum down a position to shooting guard?

It’s no secret that the Trail Blazers are shallow at the center position. If you believe LaMarcus Aldridge is tough enough to play center during stretches of each game, put Batum in at power forward and let the two big men run the opposing team out of the gym.

In football you occasionally see a team setup a great player to make plays at multiple positions all in one game—they utilize his versatility.

You can’t tell me that a 6'8" player with a wide skill set should be limited to just the small forward position, can you?

With Batum’s future unclear, it’s time for the Trail Blazers to decide how they want to utilize the 23-year-old forward and where he fits in down the road.

There’s versatility on the Trail Blazers roster—use it.