NBA AM: Batum Ready For Starting Role Back
Fourth-year forward Nicolas Batum may be somewhat of an unknown commodity to the casual NBA fan, but those who follow the league extensively know all about his long term potential and the tremendous upside he possesses.
Yet, despite those considerable talents, Batum has been unable to secure the starting small forward role for the Portland Trail Blazers this season for two reasons.
First, the strong play of former All-Star Gerald Wallace to start the season must be noted, but the second reason is that the humble and team-first nature of Batum himself hasn’t pressed the issue internally within the locker room.
However, when asked directly about whether he feels he’s deserving of a bigger role, Batum had no problem voicing confidence in his own abilities and where he feels he belongs – back in the starting lineup.
“I know I can start,” Batum told HOOPSWORLD full of confidence. “I know that, but we have a former All-Star in the spot. G [Wallace] is pretty good right now. I know my role and when I come off the bench I play like a starter anyway. Like I say, no matter who starts the game, the five best players will be on the court when the game is on the line so that’s perfect for me.”
Entering the 2012 campaign Batum had recorded 168 starting assignments in 196 career contests; however, Portland’s acquisition of Wallace from the Charlotte Bobcats last year ultimately landed Batum on the bench this season in a reserve role – a pivotal one for the talented Blazers, but a bench role nonetheless.
Blazers head coach Nate McMillan has been one of Batum’s biggest supporters since he entered the league in 2008, but wants the young player to step up, show the initiative and put the pressure on him as a coach to place him back in the starting unit.
“I think the potential is all on him and how good does he want to be,” McMillan said. “How good does he want to be as soon as he steps on the floor? As I’ve told him, don’t accept a backup role. I want you to play and make me put you in that starting unit and I believe he has the ability to do that.”
One thing Batum makes extremely clear is that the impact of Wallace joining the Blazers last season hasn’t stunted his growth; in fact the forward says he’s been studying Wallace’s approach to the game and learning from the veteran on a daily basis.
“It’s good for me,” Batum told HOOPSWORLD on the benefit of playing with Wallace. “When he got traded here last year people told me ‘it was a bad thing’ for me and ‘you’ll get less playing time.’ But I said no, I’m going to learn a lot from him and I have learned a lot from him. He’s a great player so I’m just continuing to learn.”
On another note, the Blazers and Batum have until 9pm on Wednesday night to agree to a contract extension or the fourth-year player will become a restricted free agent on July 1. If this occurs, the Blazers would have the right to match any offer received by an opposing team for Batum’s services. According to McMillan, there is no question that Batum is part of the team’s future core.
“He’s a young guy that we really like and is part of the plan as far as the future of this organization,” McMillan said. “He can do a number of things. He can defend, score and play three different positions – very talented on both ends of the floor.”
Portland’s front office has been adamant of how Batum fits into the team’s long term strategy, but armed with plenty of cap room and no risk of losing Batum due to his potential restricted status the team may not strike a deal until next summer – since they hold all leverage in negotiations at this point.
Luol Deng Sidelined With Injured Wrist: The Chicago Bulls have raced out to the league’s best record, a position they finished at in 2011, and have looked like certifiable championship contenders early on.
That’s the good news for Bulls fans.
The bad news is the team will now be without the services of forward Luol Deng who suffered a torn ligament in his left wrist.
Deng has opted not to go the route of surgery, which would have put him on the shelf for two months, so the injury is officially classified as week-to-week.
“It could always be worse,” Deng said putting an optimistic spin on the injury. “Injuries happen but it is what it is. It’s just what we do from here. But I’m very confident that it’ll be fine. It’s sore, but the soreness has gone down a lot in two days. So hopefully every day [I will] keep treating it and see if I can get rid of the soreness and just try to be back there as soon as possible.”
Before suffering the injury versus Charlotte on Sunday Deng was generating plenty of All-Star buzz for his stellar play in leading the Bulls to the league’s best record.
Now as Deng deals with the latest injury setback, a potential All-Star appearance has faded from consideration entirely.
However, Deng is still confident of the Bulls’ team chemistry to overcome their latest chapter of adversity.
“I really feel like we have a very good chance of doing something special,” Deng said to the media. “And I feel like without the surgery, I’ll be fine. I just know what I can do with it and what I can’t do. And I really think I’m going to be very effective out there. There’s going to be days when it’s sore.”
NBA Provides Approval Of Gordon Extension Offer: According to a Yahoo! Sports report, the NBA has provided the necessary authorization which allows the New Orleans Hornets to make a formal four-year contract extension offer to shooting guard Eric Gordon.
Keep in mind, the NBA currently owns the Hornets.
“In terms of my contract extension, [Hornets general manager] Dell Demps indicated that it’s out of his control and NBA commissioner David Stern has the last determination on the contract extension,” Gordon said according to the report.
Gordon was acquired by the Hornets from the Los Angeles Clippers in the Chris Paul blockbuster before the start of the season.
The high scoring guard has only suited up for two contests, due to a bruised knee, as a member of the Hornets but averaged an impressive 21 points in those games.
If the two sides cannot reach a deal, then Gordon will become a restricted free agent beginning on July 1, although the Hornets would have the right to match any offers tendered.
NBA Chats: There is one NBA chat on the schedule. Salary cap guru Larry Coon will host his chat starting at 3pm EST. Submit a question for Larry here.