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Is Nicolas Batum a role player or a cornerstone?

Right now, Nicolas Batum seems to fulfill the status of “role player” on the Trail Blazers. Based on this offseason, that may need to change.

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

It's been complete bedlam this offseason in the state of Texas.

To start, you had the NBA Champion crowned in the Lone Star State, as the San Antonio Spurs continued their incredible ten-year run. Then there was Dallas, which resigned Dirk Nowitzki and also made a trade with New York to land Tyson Chandler and ex-Blazer favorite Raymond Felton.

However, it's what went on in Houston that's getting the most coverage.

For starters, there was the thought that Houston could land another superstar of the three available: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh. Bosh seemed the most likely, especially if LeBron ended up leaving Miami. In the meantime, Chandler Parsons was left hanging with an offer sheet from Dallas until they could get the rest of the roster figured out.

We now know the rest of the story: James goes home, Bosh ends up signing in Miami and Houston opted to not match the Parsons deal, making him a Maverick.

Not exactly the way that it was drawn up.

Though the story of Parsons leaving Houston is now two weeks old, it continues to stay in the news. Why? Because of an apparent feud between Parsons and James Harden. As highlighted by many outlets, including SB Nation's own Tom Ziller, Harden said this week that he and Dwight Howard were the cornerstones of the franchise -- with zero mention of Parsons. Apparently, the ex-Rocket took offense to the claim, calling it a "pretty ridiculous statement," following up by saying he's ready for a bigger role in Dallas.

Aside from the TMZ-nature of the team that Damian Lillard delivered a kill-shot to in Round One, there may actually be something that can be gained for Trail Blazer fans:

If debate is ensuing about whether Chandler Parson was a featured player on the Rockets (his three-year, $45 million contract would suggest he was, or can be on the Mavs), shouldn't we start asking the same question about Nicolas Batum?

While Batum isn't quite the same salary level of Parsons, you could make the argument that his role was comparable to Parsons' in Houston. Heading into their playoff series, both were heralded as the third-best player on their respective teams. Parsons was a much more offensively inclined player, while Batum had his moments on offense but mainly focused his energy on the defensive end. It felt that whoever had the best series between the two could tip the scale in that team's favor.

Batum is arguably the most polarizing player in a Trail Blazer uniform. Upon signing a four-year extension in 2012 to make him the second-highest paid player on the team -- and also the only guy other than LaMarcus Aldridge making eight-figures -- Batum has shown both flashes of brilliance as well as underwhelming moments given his ceiling.

His defensive ability is certainly a huge part to his game. In fact, without Batum, Portland very well could have been swept by San Antonio in their second round postseason series. Instead, it was Nic's wingspan that caused most of the issues for Tony Parker (that and Batum's inherent knowledge of his game from the French national team). He also managed to hold Parsons to under 44% shooting in the Houston series, including 36% shooting from distance.

Offensively, there are times when Batum looks entirely unstoppable. In transition, the lanky Frenchman can go coast-to-coast with the best wing players -- a trait often seen on the defensive end as well. He can effortlessly take the ball from outside the three-point line to the basket with one or two dribbles. He can completely fill up the score sheet, as seen with his two triple doubles last season and a rare 5x5 (at least five tallies in five different stat categories) a few years back. He's a decent three-point shooter and a very good free throw shooter.

Yet, like with Parsons, there still are looming questions about Batum's overall productivity. In large moments, "Batman" can often become lost in the flow of the game (though he has improved slightly in that regard). Unlike many of the younger guys, he doesn't necessarily make a ton of "Huh?" plays, but also doesn't seem to make as many "Wow!" plays as he seems capable. "Frustrating" is often the word of choice in his description.

In short, his output versus his perceived potential is one that many folks still aren't satisfied with.

Last season in Portland, it was obvious that Aldridge and Lillard were to two stars of the team. Batum was usually the third guy in that group. So the question is, much like the one being discussed in the Parsons conversation: Is Batum a featured player or not?

Right now, the answer seems to usually be no. Ziller's piece outlined how Parsons was really a "glorified" role player -- something that may be the category for Batum right now. Put another way, Batum was part of the biggest play for the Blazers this season vs. Houston. The difference was, instead of being the guy who shot it, he was the guy who made the pass.

The topic here then extends beyond what the Parsons/Houston drama has. In Portland, the real question revolves around whether Batum needs to be what James Harden calls a "cornerstone" piece. Do the Blazers need that to take another step?

Based on the way the offseason is going, the answer is likely yes.

Portland didn't exactly set fire to the Western Conference with their pickups this offseason. Between Chris Kaman and Steve Blake, the team definitely added some veteran leadership and a little more depth in the frontcourt, but that's about it.

That situation doesn't really play into the Blazers hands. Unless you play a historically efficient style of basketball, it's going to take three star-level players to make it to the next level: Indiana couldn't get over the hump when Roy Hibbert wasn't playing at a high level; an injury to Serge Ibaka doomed the Thunder in the Conference Finals; The CP3/Blake Griffin combo barely made it past the first round; and even when San Antonio was that efficient, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and the ageless Tim Duncan are consistently great in the postseason.

That means that, whoever it is, there needs to be that "third guy" that can be featured for the Blazers. Based on his talent and salary level, Batum currently fits that mold.

So, was Batum like Parsons in being a glorified role player last year? Probably, even if to a little further extent.

The question we need to ask ourselves now is whether Batum can, like Parsons believes for himself, take that next step for a bigger role.

In an underwhelming offseason so far, it will absolutely be a critical component to future success.