The Portland Trail Blazers announced on Wednesday that they have elected to match a reported 4-year, $46.5 million offer sheet extended to restricted free agent forward Nicolas Batum by the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Blazers faced a midnight eastern deadline to make their decision, but GM Neil Olshey confirmed to reporters in Las Vegas that Portland would keep Batum, as was expected.
The decision brings to end a multi-week saga that included statements from Batum and his agent that he preferred to play for the Timberwolves and rumors of sign-and-trade discussions that ultimately did not produce an agreement.
League sources tell Blazersedge that the two teams did extensively discuss sign-and-trade scenarios but that owner Paul Allen was adamant that Batum was going to be retained.
"Paul wasn't letting anyone -- especially David Kahn -- steal Nic," one source said. "Period. You can't do a sign-and-trade if the trade part simply isn't an option."
Contracts to comparable players given out this year include: Milwaukee Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova (5 years, $40 million), New Orleans Hornets forward Ryan Anderson (4 years, $36 million in a sign-and-trade with the Orlando Magic) and Danilo Gallinari (signed to a 4-year, $42 million extension back in January 2011).
"He would rather overpay himself into bankruptcy than feel swindled or bullied," said another league source.
The Blazers and and agent Bouna Ndiaye discussed the possibility of an extension before the January 2011 deadline but were unable to reach an agreement. League sources tell Blazersedge that Batum was offered a 4-year deal worth $26 million at that time, but it's not clear whether that was a first, second or final offer. Ndiaye told reporters at the time that he felt the Blazers "low-balled" his client and he promised to seek outside offers before negotiating directly with the Blazers.
Batum flew to Portland from Europe on Wednesday to complete his physical and make the agreement official. He had been training with the French national team in advance of the 2012 London Olympics.
The Timberwolves officially extended the offer on Sunday. Minnesota needed to make a number of roster moves simply to create the necessary cap space to formally make the offer. Forward Martell Webster was released, center Brad Miller was traded and center Darko Milicic was released using the amnesty clause.
Olshey began the negotiations by telling Batum and Ndiaye that the team would match any offers and would not agree to a sign-and-trade. He later hedged on that, refusing to repeat that declaration to a group of reporters and instead saying that he would do what's in the best interests of the Blazers in the short-term and long-term. At least one writer believed Olshey could be interested in pursuing a sign-and-trade now after the Blazers were unable to acquire Indiana Pacers restricted free agent center Roy Hibbert. No deal developed, despite days of rumors. A few days later, Olshey did repeat Portland's desire to retain Batum no matter what.
In recent weeks, Ndiaye made numerous comments indicating that his client would prefer to play for the Timberwolves rather than the Blazers next season. He even said that it Batum's "dream" to play in Minnesota. After declining to comment for some time, Batum finally went public, saying that he wouldn't be upset if he returned to the Blazers in one interview while also confirming his desire to play in Minnesota in another, calling the Timberwolves his "first choice." Batum also denied a report that he was so unhappy with the Blazers that he wanted "no part" of returning.
Batum said back in April that he was "99 percent" sure that the Blazers would match any offer made to him and the team's ownership and management has consistently referred to him as one of the roster's core pieces. The Blazers extended a qualifying offer to Batum back in June.
Batum, 23, averaged 13.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 blocks and 1.0 steals in 30.4 minutes for the Blazers last season.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter