Portland Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey addressed a small group of reporters outside a Las Vegas hotel on Wednesday to announce the official matching of a Minnesota Timberwolves offer sheet extended to restricted free agent forward Nicolas Batum.
In a beautiful and unscripted moment, a Brinks truck pulled up just moments after Olshey began discussing Batum's extension. You can't make this stuff up.
Anyway, here's a transcript of Olshey's comments. He went into detail about the offer sheet, the negotiations and plans for the roster.
Decision to match on Nicolas Batum
The decision was made a long time ago. We were never not going to have Nicolas back. We did investigate certain things with Minnesota as a due diligence deal, we wanted to make sure we explored every option to improve our basketball team, but there was never a situation where there was a commensurate package offered back that was attractive enough to let Nicolas go.
One thing I want to make clear is: Nicolas and I have been in constant communication. Since July 5th when we had lunch, we've talked every day, every other day, we've texted. He's always expressed a desire to come back to Portland. His agent did what he needed to do, which is get him the best possible deal for his client. He feels like he did that. Nicolas got his deal, we got our player back and we'll move on.
Is he worth that much money?
First of all, the contract isn't as egregious as once thought and was reported in the media, which is why sometimes it's better to wait to report things in the media. Matter of fact, there were some bonuses included that were disallowed by the league. The package is actually less than the deal that was reported. It doesn't matter what the contract is today, what matters is that Nicolas respects the responsibility that he's going to be held to a higher standard now. He's in a leadership position. He's one of the higher paid players in the league at his position and I know he wants to embrace that and have a bigger role on the team on a daily basis.
Did Batum's price ever give you pause?
No. No. Can he live up to the value of the contract? We think he can. Absent that, it didn't matter because there was never a package that even came close to reaching the value of having Nicolas on our roster at his age, growing with LaMarcus [Aldrige] and Wes [Matthews] and the young guys we just brought in. I said at my press conference he was a building block, one of the foundations of the organization. I would have liked to handle it directly with his agent but based on where negotiations went before I got hired, they just felt like they would go outside the organization to get the best offer.
Will Blazers fans hold some resentment about what Batum said about wanting to go to Minnesota?
Nic never said that. Let's be very clear. Nic made a couple of comments at the behest of the Minnesota Timberwolves and his agent. That was their agenda, it was never Nicolas's agenda. If I wasn't in constant contact with the kid, I would tell you that. I can tell you that Nicolas called me after those articles went out and said, 'They asked me to do this. They put me up to it. It's not me. I want to talk to you directly Neil. I don't want my agent to know or another team to know. I just want you and I to be on the same page.' He always wanted to be back in Portland. I think he would have liked to have done the deal straight up just like I would have. But he listened to his representative and that's his prerogative. His representative did a great job. He got him a hell of a deal.
Now we move on. The Portland fanbase should in no way resent Nicolas Batum for this.
What can you tell us about the contract?
We don't talk [specifics]. It's four years. We don't talk about terms. You guys will find out eventually. Not to be evasive but it's not important. What's important is that Nicolas is on the roster. He's our starting small forward. He's a key piece going forward. He's a young talent and I really do believe when a new coach is hired and a new system is put in, he'll have more opportunity to live up to his contractual obligations based on the responsibilities he's going to take within our roster composition.
Was your eventual deal significantly less than the reported deal?
It doesn't matter. It really doesn't matter. Let us worry about the money. You guys worry about the players and the team and how well or how poorly we play and how guys are developing. We'll worry about how we manage our cap and how guys get paid. Guys value is based on what they bring to the team and I can assure you that Nicolas will absolutely live up to this contract.
We're under the cap. We still have cap room. We created a valuable trade exception in the New York trade, we have a $3.5 million trade exception from the Raymond Felton trade. We also picked up three additional assets in that deal. We've got one roster spot remaining. We're going to sign a point guard later today. Just a minimum player that will flesh out our backcourt. We think he's going to be a nice addition. We'll hold the last roster spot for a little while to have some flexibility for trades or some further free agent acqusition.
[The point guard is] Ronnie Price. Ronnie is on his way to Portland, he's doing a physical today, hopefully everything goes well there. He'll join the backcourt. He's very close to Damian [Lillard], they work out in the summer. He and Wes [Matthews] played together. He's a totally different look than what Damian and Nolan [Smith] bring to the table and I think he'll really complement those guys.
Last player will be a big man?
We'll see. We've certainly got a lot of bigs on the roster right now. I don't want to pigeonhole it positionally. The best player we can acquire. If there's a center, then it will be a center. If it's another position and we've got to play guys a little bit undersized at the five, we're really high on Meyers Leonard. I'm not saying he's going to be a Day One starter or a franchise caliber player immediately. But at the end of the day, you see the talent. He runs rim to rim, he blocks shots, he rebounds, he makes free throws, he's got good hands, he can pass the ball. I don't think his learning curve is going to be as long as we first thought. At the end of the day, I don't want to hold back his development by bringing in someone that makes us good enough to get beat.
Meyers Leonard looked pretty raw last night
He also had the stomach flu, was throwing up in a garbage can in the hallway. Which is another reason I don't talk to coaches after games. He was sick as a dog last night. He fought through it and he played and that's why his energy level was down. He played against a very clever European big man who has been through the wars. Donatas [Motiejunas] is a really talented kid, he's got all the tricks, but he also did things that opened his eyes. This is Summer League. This is Summer League. These guys haven't played five on five for four months. As long as they have skills that indicate where they will be when they can do it on a consistent basis, that's what you care about.
Even with Ronnie Price addition, you're still under the cap?
Nolan Smith is OK?
Nolan is going to be fine. He got his bell rung, he had a concussion, he'll go through the concussion protocols. Anything more specific, you'll have to talk to Jay Jensen. He had some headaches last night, his neck is a little bit sore, full range of motion, full strength in all of his extremities. It's a shame because he was having a really, really nice game. Part of being in Summer League as a second year player, it was to get his confidence up, get his swagger going, and I thought last night he was in attack mode, he was decisive with the ball, making plays for himself and other people. He was really solidifying the stuff that the front office staff prior to my arrival saw in him when they drafted him a year ago.
Yeah, [he's out the last three games.] Look, it's great that he finished up the way he did. I think he walks away knowing that he's an NBA caliber player. Whether it's at the one or the two, he's going to have minutes in this league. He's got a good skillset, his jumper is improving, he's getting better off the dribble. He's being more assertive. He's a victim of Summer League turning into tackle football at times. You have guys fighting for jobs. You've got the whole league watching, there's a lot on the line. There's a lot of guys out of sync because they haven't played five on five since March.
He took a hit, he's a tough kid, he'll bounce back but I think he's showed enough for us to be even more confident in his abilities at being a rotation-caliber player for us.
If I didn't have to be down here talking to you guys, I could get back up there and do other interviews. We've met with some good guys, we have more meetings today and meetings later in the week. We want to be exhaustive in our search. Everybody bring something to the table, it's really going to be on fit. The roster is pretty much fully formed at this point. We can find the best coach to fit our roster and not vice versa. I've said this from the beginning that it's really important to us. Somebody shares a common vision for where we're going and they know where the roster is going in order to best hire the guy who can accelerate the growth of our young guys while still being able to compete with our veterans.
Will you cut it down to finalists?
I may, I may not. If guys distance themselves, and there's clearly a difference between two and three guys and the rest of the candidates, and we're not going to be done at Summer League. There are certain guys that had other obligations. There are guys that are overseas that we may want to talk to. We're in no rush. The team is put together, we have guys in the gym every day working players out, we don't tip off until September or early October. We've got time, we're going to find the right guy. We're not going to rush into it. I like to think Larry [Miller], Paul [Allen] and Bert [Kolde] took their time in finding a GM and they found the right guy. We're going to find the right guy for our roster and we're not going to accelerate it because everybody feels like we have to have a coach today, because we've got qualified guys in the gym with our guys. Our guys are working and they respond to the players and when we find a guy who checks off all the boxes, we'll get him in front of Paul and pull the trigger.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter