Nicolas Batum is a Blazer now, and it's pretty safe to assume he'll stay a Blazer in the future. Credit: Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE

Free Agent Free For All: Brandon Roy And Nicolas Batum

At work the other day I was watching Twitter zip by with a new free agent update every microsecond, and I decided it would probably be better to just wait until all the dust had settled before I weighed in on everything that is happening. Tonight, however, my hand has been forced a little bit. I’ll try not to let my feelings ramble too much.

Before I get to the real meat of what has transpired in the last 12+ hours, let me first say something about Roy Hibbert. Or, actually let me just reiterate what Alexis Harper already said about Roy Hibbert and the offer he was made by the Blazers on the opening day of free agency over at Portland Roundball Society.

Neil Olshey wants to win. That means going after the best talent in the league. Hibbert is the best center available this free agency period, he’s big, he’s got a lot of talent and plenty of room to grow his game, and he’s an All-Star (albeit against minimal competition at his position in his conference but still). You want to be the best; you try and get the best. That’s all there is to it.

Will the Blazers get Hibbert? Maybe, but probably not. But at least they tried. That counts for something in my book.

On to other things; like Nicolas Batum. If you’re a Blazer fan, and you haven’t been living under a rock since the 2010-11 season, then you know that Nicolas Batum’s rookie contract expired at the of the 2011-12 season. You probably also know that the Blazers decided not to renew his deal before the deadline during the season, ensuring that Nic would become a free agent before the start of 2012-13. Also basically guaranteeing that we’d see the drama that is unfolding right now.

Here’s why the Blazers decided not to re-sign and extend Batum without the potential of losing him when they had the chance. The market for players in the NBA isn’t like the market for any other goods or services in the world. Players have no intrinsic value. They are worth what the market says they are worth, which means a player’s value is determined by what a team will pay that player.

Right now, Nicolas Batum has never existed on the open market. In a sense he has no value. We know what he’s worth to the Blazers. The Blazers know what he’s worth to the team. Nic and his people “know” what he’s worth in relation to the whole league. But the league hasn’t said how much Batum is worth to the league.

Without competing offers, Portland runs the risk of grossly overpaying for their product. Of course, by letting Nicolas onto the free market, a team, such as the Minnesota Timberwolves, with an interest in hurting a division rival’s bottom line, can make an offer that they think might be out of the Blazers’ projected range, thus putting them to a tough decision. That being said, very few owners/GMs in the NBA are willing to make an outrageous deal that they would then be stuck with just to spite another team.

In short, Minnesota wants Nic so they made an offer. Now Portland knows how much they are going to have to spend to keep him in a Blazer uniform.

As for the tweets and counter tweets as to how much or how little Nicolas Batum wants to play in Portland. In my mind, it’s all bark and no bite. Nic’s people want him to get paid, so they too can get paid. That’s how it works. Nicolas has always done the right thing when it comes to talking about Portland and the team that has brought him to the brink of being a mid-level star.

And he’s still doing the right thing. Nic’s denying that he said he didn’t want to stay in Portland, and whomever it is that is feeding one particular local pundit with sound bites (which I’m sure are real—as in not made up—but that doesn’t mean they are credible) isn’t Nic himself, so when he does eventually sign with Portland he’ll be able to continue to say that it wasn’t he who was spouting off about leaving his heart in Minnesota.

In the end, though, it really doesn’t matter what Nic wants or where he wants to play. The Blazers can and will match Minnesota’s offer. He’ll stay a Blazer. All the talk and speculation is just that. Maybe he does want to play in Minnesota. Maybe he is finished with Portland. But because he’s a restricted free agent, he doesn’t get to make the final decision.

Nicolas Batum is a professional; he has been for a long time. He knows that the only thing that really matters is who is signing the paychecks.

We don’t have to go far to get to the next issue of the moment. We don’t even have to leave Minnesota. Brandon Roy is back. And he’s now a Minnesota Timberwolf. (Is that the right way to say that?)

Without getting to maudlin, allow me to say that I have some very mixed emotions about the news that Brandon will be coming back to the NBA. When he retired at the start of last season, I really believed that he was finished. Brandon has never struck me as the kind of guy that says things he doesn’t mean, or would give up on pro basketball if he thought for a second there was still a chance he could make it work.

Sure there’s been plenty of guys that retire early then make a comeback, but way back in December when Roy said he was done, I thought for sure he was done.

Then something changed. I don’t really know when. Maybe when Brandon was conspicuously absent from the Blazers. Maybe when guys like Jamal Crawford, Seattle guys that stick together for real, started talking about how good he looked in gym sessions and workouts. Maybe when he finally did show up at the Rose Garden but did it without telling anybody. Maybe when a “Brandon Roy Day” just never happened. It started to become clear that Brandon didn’t want to be around the team that had amnestied him and didn’t want to be honored for his career because his career wasn’t over.

I’m not surprised at all that Brandon decided to come back. That’s not one of the emotions I’m feeling right now. I mostly feel this way: How am I going to react to watching him play in another team’s jersey? And, did the Blazers really have to amnesty him?

I’ll start with the second question first: Did Portland have to amnesty Brandon Roy? The answer is probably yes. They owed him a lot of money and he wasn’t going to be playing. The contract needed to come off the books if the Blazers were going to have a chance to do anything in the expurgated 2011-12 season or have a serious shot at rebuilding after that. So yes, they had to amnesty him.

As I’m sometimes wont to do, for who knows what reason, I found myself reading OregonLive comments the other day on a link to an AP story talking about Brandon taking meetings with NBA teams in preparation for a comeback. One commenter said something about Brandon over playing the extent of his injuries so he could get a big payday, sit a year, and then high tail it out of Portland because he’d had enough of the team and the organization.

I highly, highly doubt that that is what went down. What is more likely is that the Blazers really thought he was finished, or at least finished enough that even if/when he felt good enough to come back to the league he wasn’t going to be worth what was left on his contract. That’s why they amnestied him. There’s no way that at the time they could have envisioned the implosion that was last season. And even if they could have, they still probably would have amnestied him.

Given the circumstances, would I rather that Portland didn’t amnesty Brandon (especially since a possible sign and trade with Nicolas and Brandon has now been shot down twice on Twitter—here and here) and let him sit a year and recover so that if/when he did come back it would be with Portland? Yes and no. Yes, because god damn it it’s still Brandon Roy. I was in the building for Game Four. I know what he can do. And no, because we all know that Brandon 2012-13 is not Brandon 2008-09 or even Brandon 2010-11.

Minnesota gets a damaged former All-Star for short years (two) and not much money ($10 million total). Portland would have had Brandon for longer and for a lot more money if they’d decided to not amnesty him on the hope that he would come back and be able to play. It just doesn’t make any sense for the Blazers, which is too bad for us as fans.

I’ll finish this up by talking about my personal feelings RE: Brandon Roy playing in the NBA but not for the Blazers.

I’ve been a Blazer fan for as long as I’ve been a fan of the NBA: probably since the fourth grade. Usually, my favorite player in the league is also my favorite player on the Blazers.

Using simple logic you can deduce that I have therefore had many favorite players: everybody on the roster in the 90’s (but especially Drexler, Cliff Robinson, Buck Williams…OK everybody on that roster), Rasheed Wallace for a long time, Zach Randolph for a shorter amount of time, even guys like Darius Miles (for about a week in 2005). For me, Brandon Roy has always been a little different.

I liked Clyde and his guys when I was a little kid. They were very much larger than life to me. Sheed and Z-Bo were awesome but ended up flaming out in Portland and playing their best ball in other places. Darius Miles literally was only good for a week.

Brandon was my first favorite Blazer who was my own age, who I watched play in college, and who I definitely would have watched and liked had he not be on the Blazers. I love his game. I love that he wins games (or won games). And I really love that he’s from the Pacific Northwest, call it the homer factor.

But there’s more to it than that. I got a chance to talk to Brandon for the first time as an intern with the Trail Blazers back in 08-09. I’m pretty sure regardless of what happens in Minnesota, 08-09 will be his best season as a pro. He was untouchable that season: 52 points against Phoenix, 10 steals against the Washington Wizards, a handful of amazing buzzer beaters. He was also very nice to me, and always great to talk to. I’m sure to him I was just another guy with a recording device in his face, but he always gave thoughtful quotes and he always had something to say.

Brandon’s last season with the Blazers was basically a nightmare for him, but he always maintained a positive energy in the locker room. There are very few guys in the NBA that behave like Brandon Roy. And that’s what’s going to make seeing him in a Timberwolves jersey so difficult.

I was talking to a friend of mine about Brandon playing elsewhere just the other day. I asked him where he’d like to see Brandon end up since we both agreed that he was coming back. He said Chicago. He’s reasoning: Portland would only see him in the Playoffs should they reach the Finals, and he’d only come through the Rose Garden once a season.

Now it looks like we’ll be seeing Brandon more than once a season, and there’s a decent chance we’ll get him in the Playoffs if Minnesota and Portland ever get that far.

It’s not an ideal situation for Blazer fans, but I like Brandon first as a player, second as a person, and third as a Blazer. I didn’t used to have to choose between those three things because until now Brandon was always a Blazer.

Luckily, I’ll only really have to root against him four nights a season.

Here’s a link to the last audio I recorded with Brandon. This was recorded after Game Six of the Portland’s first round playoff series with the Dallas Mavericks, Brandon’s final game as a Blazer, but now not his final game in the NBA.

email me: [email protected]

Twitter: @mikeacker | @ripcityproject

It's goint to take me awhile to get used to Brandon Roy wearing number seven for the Minnesota Timberwolves. Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE

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Tags: Brandon Roy Free Agency Minnesota Timberwolves Nicolas Batum

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