Nicolas Batum's Slight Could Be Trail Blazers' Turning Point
Gerald Wallace showed up last year.
Andre Miller got into a spat with Nate McMillan the year before.
What will it be this year?
Each of the past two seasons has had a distinct turning point for the Portland Trail Blazers. The turning point did not necessarily equate to more wins, but it changed the attitude.
When Andre Miller and Nate McMillan feuded during a Jan. 7 practice two seasons ago, we saw a new Miller afterward. He fit into the offense better. He understood his role.
McMillan got a better grasp on how to handle his point guard.
The Blazers flowed better offensively.
And they won three of their next four games. They were 22-15 before the shouting match, 28-17 after.
Last year, the turning point for Portland was trading "The Vanilla Gorilla" Joel Przybilla, Dante Cunningham and Sean Marks to Charlotte for Wallace.
The Blazers lost the first two games they played with Wallace in the lineup. Then they won four straight.
After the fourth straight win, Carolina-based musician Sunny Ledfurd lamented on the one-sided trade by changing the lyrics to a song while performing in Canby: "You’re welcome… for Gerald Wallace."
Pre-Crash, Portland was 32-25. With Wallace, Portland was 16-9.
What’s this year's big moment?
To some, like The Oregonian Blazer beat writer Jason Quick, it was the players-only meeting held after a loss in Atlanta on Jan. 18. The next night, team leader LaMarcus Aldridge scored 33 points and grabbed 23 rebounds in a road win against the Toronto Raptors.
But that wasn't it.
The turning point—so far, at least—was Portland not agreeing to an extension with Nicolas Batum.
After feeling disrespected, Batum played perhaps his best game of the season against the Golden State Warriors. He scored 16 points on eight shots. He had two highlight-reel blocks after chasing down fast breaks.
He wanted to prove his worth.
If Batum keeps that chip on his shoulder, Portland's front office will lean back in its chair and grin mischievously at the way it manipulated Batum into becoming a star.
Without a guaranteed contract for next season, Batum wants to show the NBA he’s worth money. He's playing the rest of this season as an audition.
His agent said Portland will be the last team Batum talks to about contract negotiations in the offseason. Batum wants other teams to know he’s worth top dollar.
Interim general manager Chad Buchanan seems to think Batum and his agent are bluffing. He thinks if Portland matches an offer, Batum stays.
Don't be so sure.
If Batum's perceived slight continues to fuel his high level of play, that offer could be a big one.
An angry Nicolas Batum could be just what the Blazers need to work themselves out of the funk they've played their way into.
The flip side of that coin is Batum could sulk and go into a funk of his own. This would not benefit himself or the team.
Portland's fan base has seen Batum play timid. It's not pretty. He seems lost. He misses open shots. He is ineffective.
When his self-esteem is low, his performance suffers.
But when he wants the world to know who Nicolas Batum is, he can be nasty. Just look at how many guys he put on posters in his top 10 plays video. Or his block of LeBron.
That’s the Batum the Blazers need over the next few months.
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