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Nic Batum enters free agency with unfinished business

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

While Monday night’s wild Game 2 between San Antonio and Oklahoma City marked the unofficial start to these 2016 Playoffs, NBA fans also received some interesting information to chew on from one of the teams recently deposed from the postseason proceedings.

Per the Charlotte Observer, Nic Batum had this to say following Sunday’s Game 7 loss to Miami:

“We should be playing tomorrow (in the Eastern Conference semifinals) and we’re pretty mad about that. So this is unfinished business.”

That sort of statement is certainly something for Hornets fans to hold on to as they hope to retain the core group of a 48-win team, a total that marked the most victories in a season for the franchise since they were brought back to Charlotte as the Bobcats in 2004. The problem for Charlotte is that Batum is an unrestricted free agent at the same time that other key Hornets Al Jefferson, Marvin Williams, Courtney Lee, and Jeremy Lin (assuming the likely scenario where Linsanity opts out of his $2.2M player option) will all also be unrestricted free agents. Charlotte GM Rich Cho and the rest of the management team have a number of key decisions to make, with what to do with Batum identified as the number-one priority.

Last offseason, Charlotte basically rented Nic Batum for one year at $11.8M from Portland in exchange for Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh. The hope was that Batum’s arrival would help establish the Hornets as an up-and-coming team in the Eastern Conference, and he and other free agents around the league would see the Queen City as a desirable destination. On both fronts, mission accomplished.

From that same Observer piece, Batum had very favorable opinions about his year in Charlotte:

“First time I got to play like I want to in eight years in the NBA.” (When asked if he would return.) “Why not? I don’t know (what will happen in) a crazy summer for a lot of people. But why not? I want to talk to them first, for sure. July 1 will be a crazy day, but will Charlotte be my first call? Yes.”

Still, let’s not pretend that Batum is on some quest with his Hornets compatriots, putting all other free agency considerations aside, not in the summer with the biggest salary cap spike in NBA history. Batum falls into the 7-9 years of service tier, meaning he’s eligible for a max contract figure at 30% of the projected $92M salary cap. The veteran wing is looking at an annual salary well over $20M per year, and considering the crazy numbers being thrown around for some guys and the sheer amount of teams with a glut of cap space, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Batum approach that max level of around $27M per year.

Charlotte has a few distinct advantages in retaining Batum. One, they have his Bird rights, meaning they could exceed the cap to re-sign him if needed, thus affording them the ability to build a stronger team around him. Also, the Hornets can offer him an extra 5th year on a deal, a level of additional security many players find desirable. Finally, Batum’s comments about the organization and the playing style of the team indicate he would be open to returning as long as the money is comparable.

Yet, Nic Batum would be a welcome fit for nearly every team in the league. He is an above-average perimeter defender with good size at 6’8″, serviceable as an outside shooter (36.0% from three for his career), a strong rebounder for the position (16.8 DREB% last season), and an outstanding option as a secondary ball handler (career-high 5.8 assists per game in 2015-16). His skillset fits perfectly in a league that is trending toward the pick-and-roll, floor spacing, and the interchangeability of positions.

With the fact that, he’s more of a jack-of-all-trades than a ball-dominant scorer, Batum would fit in seamlessly with any established contender. Toronto has always been rumored as a potential destination for the France native given its status as a Francophone city. Batum would be a terrific replacement for DeMar DeRozan (also a free agent this summer), or even imagine the damage that could be done from a line-up of Kyle Lowry, DeRozan, Batum, DeMarre Carroll, and Jonas Valanciunas.

Aside from contenders, though, Batum is still just 27 years old and could certainly enter a situation similar to Charlotte last year where he could serve as a veteran anchor for a younger team trying to climb its way up the standings.

As we’ve known for some time, the 2016 NBA free agency period is poised to be one of the wildest ones in league history. He’s flown under the radar a bit over the years with Portland and Charlotte not being major media hubs, but Nic Batum is going to be one of the biggest names you hear about this summer. It will be very interesting to see whether he heads back to the Hornets to “finish business”, or if some other club makes him an offer he can’t refuse. Qui vivra verra.

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