Sitting on the ledge in the front room of my house are a pair of white and red Adidas shoes. This certain pair of Adidas is a size 16 and have an inscription on the back of each shoe, “Frenchy 88”. Along the outside of each shoe is a signature in black sharpie. The shoes, inscription and signature belong to small forward Nicolas Batum.
Being a columnist and trying not to be too subjective in my latest columns, I have tried to stay neutral during the Batum free-agency saga. But to tell you all the truth, Batum has been my favorite Blazer for a few years now.
There are quite a few reasons he has been one of the players I have been keen on. We were both born in the same year, 1988, and the fact that he wears that 88 every game has been pretty cool to me. I have met him at a few functions around town and he has always seemed incredibly gracious and kind, which are two traits that are hard to athletes these days. And his game/potential have always completely intrigued me.
I remember watching him play over in Europe before last season’s lockout ended. His aggressiveness and tenacity was ten times what we have ever seen from him here in Portland. That got me excited for the lockout to end and for him to show up back here in Portland. When the lockout ended and he got back with the Trail Blazers to start the 66-game season, he was coming off the bench behind Gerald Wallace. Only averaging 24 minutes a game through the first ten games, I felt like he never got his chance.
Coming back here to Portland this year and signing this $40+ million contract makes it apparent that Batum is the number 2 option for this team behind LaMarcus Aldridge. This contract and assurance that Batum is the guy will translate into the more confident, aggressive, assertive small forward we have all be hoping for.
The current coaching search is also a huge factor on how productive Batum can be here in Portland. One of the main factors that attracted Batum to Minnesota was that Coach Rick Adelman had a system in place that he felt he could flourish in. If the Blazers bring in the right coach, Batum can be a dependable option for this team that desperately needs him to fill up the stat sheet.
Fans and media across this city have been put off by the fact that Batum was reported as saying that Minnesota was his destination of choice over Portland. There has been talk on whether the fans will be able to receive him with open arms or not. Feelings of a fan base can be hurt fairly easily and there will be those who may not welcome Batum back, but any level-headed fan of this team will welcome him because Batum has a fantastic upside and will help this young team progress for years to come.
All things will be answered when the Blazers take the court in the Rose Garden for the first home game and Mark Mason exclaims, “à l'avant, six huit. De France. Numéro quatre-vingt huit, Nicolas Batum!" There will surely ring out a few boos, but those boos will be overwhelmed by 20,000 people cheering on a fan favorite.
Count me among those who will cheer on Batum as he strives to live up to the expectations this huge contract will put on him. I have no desire to get rid of my white and red Batum Adidas shoes, and rest assured, if I come across a game-used 88 jersey, I will buy it immediately.