I hope I speak for a lot of Blazer fans when I say that I don't believe that Nicolas Batum actually said what he was reported to say about "never wanting to play in Portland again". Besides the denial tweet from Batum himself, comments like that are totally inconsistent with the character and behavior that Batum has displayed in his time in Portland. The comments are consistent, however, with the bush league antics of his poor excuse for an agent, Bouna Ndiaye. Perhaps they were made as Jason Quick suggested, to give the illusion of leverage in negotiation. Perhaps they were put out by someone in the Timberwolves' organization to undermine Batum's relationship with the Blazers and detract him from resigning. In either case, the only thing that Dwight Jaynes and his "NBA source" have accomplished by publishing those comments is adding a little controversy and contempt in the minds of casual fans who can't see through the smoke. Regardless of the source, Neil Olshey and the Blazers are not foolish enough to be influenced by them. They will speak with Batum to find out where he really wants to play. The only thing shocking to the seriously engaged Blazer fans is how the hall of fame writer and so-called "Godfather" of Oregon Sports was convinced that the comments were true.
Batum may in fact be a franchise cornerstone and all of the above may be long forgotten in a couple weeks. Nevertheless, as the title of this post suggests, the Blazers must do their due diligence to form a contingency plan if they determine that it is not in their best interests to resign or match an offer for Batum. I'd like to explore what their realistic options might be. Feel free to offer alternatives in the comments.
Assumption #1) Nicolas Batum agrees in principle to a 4 yr, $45-50 million offer sheet by the Minnesota Timberwolves as reported.
Assumption #2) The Blazers decide after meeting with Batum that for whatever reason, it is not in their best interest to match the offer.
Option 1) Seek a replacement in the Free agent pool
Outlook: This year's class of free agents at the SF position is weak at best. Nicolas Batum is widely regarded as the best available SF. With players such as Gerald Wallace, Andrei Kirilenko, and Michael Beasley already signed, a starting-caliber SF is even harder to come by, especially one close to Batum's age. Others such as Antawn Jamison and Grant Hill are not likely to be targets because of their age. Ilyasova and Anderson are both potential starters, though they are more like combo forwards or stretch-4's, and their weaknesses will be their defense.
Option 2) Seek a replacement via Trade
Outlook: The Blazers don't have a lot of player assets outside of Aldridge and their draftees who are unlikely to be traded. Nolan Smith, Elliot Williams, Luke Babbitt, Shawne Williams and Kurt Thomas have very little if any trade value. Trading a starter in Matthews just to get a starter at SF might not be enough improvement to justify the risk in acquiring a player who might not be a long term fit. The Blazers are also unlikely to give up draft picks given the uncertainty of their goal to quickly get back into contention with a rookie franchise point guard and poor depth at every position. Their ability to absorb unwanted contracts is their biggest asset in any trade
Option 3) Sign and Trade Nicolas Batum
Outlook: Minnesota does have some attractive talent at positions of need for the Blazers. Ridnour could be an effective backup point guard who is currently buried in the T-wolves lineup behind Ricky Rubio and JJ Barea. Williams is regarded as somewhat of a bust given that he picked #2 overall, but is a talented combo forward who could start at SF. The Blazers might be willing to take on a work in progress with a high ceiling like Williams. Pekovic is an underrated starting center with remarkable numbers and potential, but he's slow and a poor shot blocker- 13.9PPG, 7.4 RPG, 0.7 BPG in 26 mins. As a starter, he avgs 15.4 PPG, 8.5 RPG (Compare to Roy Hibbert-12.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 2.0 BPG in 29.8 mins). The T-wolves could match Batum's new salary with any two of those 3 players without touching their core players or creating a roster imbalance.