Blazers Abroad


What counts as news in these early days of what might be a season-killing work stoppage? A lawsuit filed by the NBA in federal court in order to head-off potential anti-trust litigation by the NBA player’s association—a lawsuit that named Jimmer Fredette who happens to be a professional in name only? How about whispers and speculation of this superstar or that All-Star taking their game to Turkey, or Isreal, or China? What about Kevin Durant torching a bunch of streetballers at Rucker Park, and the debate that video sparked as to whether or not a guy can establish his street cred on jump shots alone or if it’s dunks that will win the hearts and minds of the schoolyard legends?

Well, lucky for us, in one way or another all of those things are news. Say what you will about the NBA running itself into the ground, NBA writers haven’t gone away just because the game has.

I’ve kept out of it up until now for a couple of reasons, which I have enumerated in my previous post. And since current Blazers have stayed mostly out of sight thus far during the lockout, save for Brandon Roy making brief headlines for hosting but skipping a charity game at the NBA starved Key Arena and some Twitter-based video footage of an absolutely jacked LaMarcus Aldridge flipping tractor tires, there still hasn’t been a lot on which to comment.

That changed today. In something of a rash of player-movement related news today, it has been made official that two Trail Blazers will be playing professional basketball in the upcoming months. They just won’t be doing it on this continent.

As confirmed by Marc Stein of ESPN, Nicolas Batum has committed to playing in France in the event that the lockout should extend into the actual NBA season. Joining Nic across The Pond, albeit in very different country and a very different league, will be fan favorite and promo-video mega celeb Patty Mills.

Mills will join Milwaukee Buck forward and native Turk Ersan Illysova as a member of the Istanbul-based Anadolu Efes S.K. Patty may have lucked out some, jumping to a pretty successful club in a league that will feature Deron Williams and, if the rumor mill known as the Internet is to be believed, potentially Kobe Bryant. But I’ll get to Patty in a minute. I want to start by focusing on what an overseas tour might do for Nicolas Batum.

Nic will take his talents to the city of Nancy, in the French region of Lorraine, joining the roster of SLUC Nancy Basket, AKA the Cougars. SLUC Nancy plays in the Ligue Nationale de Basketball (for state-siders lets use the abbreviation LNB) in the Pro A League division. This is France’s top professional basketball division, and SLUC Nancy is the division’s top dog.

Stepping into the league as a member of the best team isn’t such a bad gig, and as Nic is probably the biggest thing going in French basketball at the moment, an aging Tony Parker notwithstanding, it makes a lot of sense to have him help the best team get better.

The question isn’t is this move good for SLUC Nancy—let’s be honest, of course it is, and let’s be honest again, we’re not all about to run out and buy Nancy Basket jerseys and pledge our undying allegiance to the Cougars—the question is, is this move good for Nicolas Batum, and by extension the Blazers?

My answer: a definitive maybe. If anybody is going to suffer from a lost season, it’s going to be guys like Nicolas Batum. Nic is knocking on the door of being a superstar in the NBA, but his game still needs work. Not running against any type of real talent, or spending the next 12 months schooling scrubs at the Paris YMCA might stunt Nic’s development. For Portland to make the big jump in the next few seasons, Nicolas has to get better during this layoff. The LNB is not the NBA, but it’s also not Drew League.

So that’s the good. Here’s the bad. Should Nic go to France and get injured the whole thing will look like one big mistake. Nic doesn’t have a Greg Oden-style history of injuries, but remember he did strain his shoulder playing for his mother country in the European Championships a few summers ago. It’s not the same situation, playing in a lengthy tournament following a marathon season, and Nic could get injured in a pick-up game, doing reps in the gym, or planking at the Louvre. I just feel like with the luck of the Blazers, it would be par for the course if Nic went down with something while wearing a Nancy jersey and had to be put on the shelf when the NBA returns.

On to Patty Mills. Patty might just be the luckiest guy so far in this lockout. Portland made him a qualifying offer, which means that he will at some point be under contract with the Blazers, but with the addition of Nolan Smith and the return of Elliott Williams, Patty has to see the writing on the wall. His days as a Blazer are numbered. His time in the league may also come to an end if and when he leaves the Blazers.

The best thing Patty can do for his chances to stay relevant to the NBA is get mentioned in the same news items as guys like Deron Williams and other name guys that may be Europe-bound.

But more than getting his name in the papers, playing will help Patty, just like it will Nicolas. The difference is that Patty has further to go. However, if a bunch of players head to Turkey to play with or against D-Will or Kobe, Patty could find himself on the short end of the playing time spectrum once again. I don’t think it would bode well for Patty’s future as a player in the NBA if he can’t crack a roster in the Turkish league.

Personally, I think that Patty may just be better off staying overseas. Like all Blazer fans, I appreciate the off-the-court stuff Patty does. I dig his laid back attitude, he seems to care genuinely about the city of Portland and Blazer fans, but I just think Portland can’t carry him anymore. Nolan Smith was drafted high enough, and comes with enough of a pedigree, that he needs to play. Armon Johnson has tools that Patty simply does not. Not to mention the fact that Portland could use Patty’s roster spot to bring in the big guy they failed to add in the Draft. Going to Europe now could give Patty a leg up on his overseas career.

This is all speculation, of course. There’s still a chance that an 11th-hour deal gets done, and the season is saved and nobody has to go anywhere. That’s unlikely. It’s already August, if a deal isn’t made by the end of the next month games will be missed, and as we all know, when the season starts games zip by at an unbelievable rate. I really don’t think the NBA is going to green-light a 30-game season. If we don’t have basketball by Christmas we may not get it at all. If NBAPA President Billy Hunter’s statement about betting against there being a season is any indication of the state of negotiations, we’ve got a long way to go.

And because of that, I say let them go. Nicolas needs the run; Patty does too. The NBA has stipulated that all players under contract are to be called home as soon as the lockout ends, so there’s no way that Nicolas is some how frozen or black-listed for playing professional ball when most of his compatriots are making YouTube videos and Tweeting about working out. Patty can, and will, come back too. Whether or not he stays in the Rose City, are becomes a Turkish All-Star is another question.

Twitter: @mikeacker | @ripcityproject