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Both of these topics found traction in the sidebar yesterday, but they’re worth a place on the main page in case anybody missed them.

First, as reported by HomerSolo and confirmed here by the Blazers, the team has signed Nicolas Batum.  This is not a huge surprise to anyone who has been listening, but it’ll be interesting to see how it develops.  I’m sure everyone from Portland to Kansas to the Atlantic shore heard BlazerFan1’s scream of glee.  Plug your ears if he gets playing time.

Second, Casey Holdahl gives us some links and updates to the Luol Deng conversationsExpect this to remain a hot topic until and unless Deng signs and expect there to be similar conversations on various teams after that. 

Storyteller and I were talking about this very thing over the weekend.  Here’s what’s happening, folks.  Deng is right smack dab in the middle of the whole “restricted free agency/qualifying offer” maelstrom we talked about a few weeks ago. 

Chicago only has a couple options with him.  They have made him the requisite one-year qualifying offer necessary to retain him.  They also have the right to match any deal that any other team offers him this summer.  Their third choice would be to make him a long-term deal right now.  The thing is, the Bulls have no more power than that.  They can’t force him to take the qualifying offer or to accept a longer deal.  That’s his choice…his and his agent’s. 

Not all contracts are created equal.  Besides the obvious dollar amount there are opt-outs, front-loading, and the like which make them more or less attractive to the player or the team.  I don’t know Deng and I don’t know his agent, but I don’t have to.  I can guarantee you what is going on right now…a scenario which will be repeated this summer in every city with significant free agents.  John Paxson has been on the phone to Deng’s agent offering him a very nice deal.  Deng’s agent has politely told Paxson that they don’t want a very nice deal, they want the best deal possible (or at least a better one than the Bulls are offering).  The spiel goes like this:  “You have our rights now, but we are perfectly willing to sign that one-year qualifying offer.  After Luol plays that year he is an unrestricted free agent.  I am looking over at Portland.  They sure could use a great starting small forward.  They have, let’s see…five, ten, no…TWENTY million dollars available next summer.  Now John, would you like to discuss that long-term deal again?”

Note that this dialogue would play out whether or not Deng had any intention of playing out the qualifying offer and whether or not they thought coming to Portland was a viable option.  They would be absolute fools not to unless Chicago offered them the most desirable contract possible on the very first go.  You know how a defense lawyer will say it’s his duty to represent anyone, even if they seem like a low life who very well could have committed the crime?  Well, it’s an agent’s duty to get his client the contract he wants, no matter what leverage he has to use to get it.  Expect Portland’s impending millions to be used as leverage plenty of places.  Don’t fall for it in cases like this UNLESS the player actually signs that one-year qualifying offer.  In that case you can begin to hope.  I’m not saying Portland couldn’t get these guys.  I am saying not to believe the hype during early negotiations and to wait until pen meets paper to assess the possibilities.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)