Aldridge: Nicolas Batum Confirms Timberwolves Are "First Choice"

David Aldridge of reports that Portland Trail Blazers restricted free agent Nicolas Batum has confirmed that the Minnesota Timberwolves are his top pick to play for next season. ------------------------------- "I’m a restricted free agent," Batum said. "I know the situation. Anywhere I sign, the Blazers are going to match. But my first choice was, and is, Minnesota. That’s where I want to play and that’s where I want to put my family. I’ve got nothing against the fans (in Portland) and nothing against the city. But this is a basketball decision and basketball wise, I want to be there. Last year, they impressed everybody, and that’s what I respect. To have a great young point guard like (Ricky) Rubio, and a great coach like (Rick) Adelman, I really liked that project. And I think they think I’m the missing piece at small forward. That’s what they told me." ... "I know that they’re working on a sign and trade, and I’m very hopeful that both of them understand my situation, do the best both for me and for them," he said. ------------------------------- Batum previously denied a report that indicated that he wanted "no part" of Portland. He also said on Tuesday that he would not be upset if he returns to Portland. Batum's agent, Bouna Ndiaye, has 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. Prior to Tuesday's interviews, Batum had declined comment on his situation. Batum has reportedly agreed to a 4-year, $45 million offer sheet with the Minnesota Timberwolves. At 9 p.m. Pacific on Tuesday night, the NBA's free agency moratorium will be lifted and Batum will be free to sign the offer sheet. If and when that happens, Portland has three days to decide whether or not to match the offer sheet and retain him. Last week, Blazers GM Neil Olshey told Batum and Ndiaye that the team would match any offers and would not agree to a sign-and-trade. On Monday, Olshey hedged on that, refusing to repeat that declaration to a group of reporters and instead saying he would do what's in the best interests of the Blazers in the short-term and long-term. At least one writer believes Olshey could be interested in pursuing a sign-and-trade now that the Blazers were unable to acquire Indiana Pacers restricted free agent center Roy Hibbert. A report surfaced Tuesday regarding a potential sign-and-trade package between the Timberwolves and the Blazers. Also on Thursday, a report indicated that the Blazers told Batum and his agent that they would match any offer sheet and would not participate in any sign-and-trades. 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. ed: text edited, bumped to front page