The Portland Trailblazers are going into next season with a significantly different look and they are hoping that it returns them to the playoffs.
In order to clean the slate, Portland ousted their general manager Chad Buchannan and head coach Nate McMillan. Additionally, they lost centerpiece Brandon Roy to retirement and traded away the likes of Marcus Camby and Raymond Felton.
In their dealings, the Blazers received expiring contracts in Jonny Flynn and Hasheem Thabeet and decided to part with them too. One of the more notable cuts Portland made was former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden, who has only played in 82 games since being drafted in 2007.
After a busy draft night and two lottery picks, the Blazers have taken a different direction with the core of their franchise which is now centered around All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. One key move aside from the draft, however, is the Blazers paying good money ($46.5 million over four years) to match the offer on their restricted free agent Nicolas Batum.
Batum, a fifth-year wing from France, has shown a lot of promise in his young career, leading to a rather nice payday. The Blazers, however, may not have wanted to give him that much money, but were given no other choice when Batum signed an offer sheet with the Timberwolves.
Though some fans may be cringing at possibly overpaying someone who could turn out to be a glorified role player, I'm here to tell you not to fear since the Blazers absolutely made the right move.
Considering his numbers alone, Batum doesn't seem to be quite worthy enough to warrant that kind of pay. However, when you look a little closer, Batum did very well in the time he saw on the court. His average of 30.4 minutes per game were the lowest among the starters, but he still managed to lead the team in true shooting percentage at 57.5 percent.
Outside the stats, Batum plays solid defense and uses his length and athleticism to record decent amounts of steals and blocks.
The way he plays is comparable to a lighter version of Kevin Durant. Both use their size at the wing position and can pull off atheltic plays at the rim or shoot from the perimeter with a nice touch. I'm not saying Batum is in the same class as Durant, but he definitely has a similar playing style.
What I am getting at here is that the Trail Blazers have done a great job of making over their team and rebuilding it really quickly, so by retaining Batum, they have cemented their successful offseason and plans for the future.
Towards the end of last season, Portland was clearly looking to right the ship and did so by cleaning house. Amongst all the losing, there were also some rumblings about the Blazers maybe trading Batum since he was disgruntled about not receiving an extension to his contract.
Even with him signing an offer sheet with Minnesota, Batum is reportedly happy to be back in Portland. Could this just be him doing some damage control to try to win the fans back?
Maybe so. However, it shouldn't matter since new Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey knew what he had in Batum and that it would be a poor decision to let him walk to the ever-improving Timberwolves.
Now that there is seemingly no more bad blood for Batum and Portland, and now that he is signed long-term, the Blazers can focus on getting back to their playoff form.
Batum will be even more important for the future of Portland because he is still just 23 years old but has enough seasoning to help out the rest of the young squad around him. Having no worries about free agency or an extension will give him more time to focus on meshing with his rookie teammates and forming a core that could be the best Portland has seen in years.
With two lottery picks now anchoring the point guard and center positions, Batum becomes a great, versatile piece to have in the middle of the lineup, since he can switch around positions between the 2 and the 4.
The future is looking bright in Portland, and though it may seem that they paid a high price for Batum, it was the right choice to make. Assuming he can fill out his potential and step up to be a solid starter for the Blazers, this team could have one of the better starting fives in the coming years.
There's a lot of young talent and hope for this team, and having Batum come back and be able to focus on basketball could pay great dividends for him individually and the team as a whole.