When Neil Olshey took over as Portland Trail Blazers General Manager, he said we wanted to bring in a winning culture, and lure the best players to play in the Rose Garden.
His first free agency period? Not so good. With the recent trade sending Raymond Felton and Kurt Thomas to New York for Jared Jeffries, Dan Gadzuric, and two European contracts, and the draft of two project players in Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard, the message is clear that this is a rebuilding year.
If that is the case, then something seems fishy. That something is the saga involving Nicolas Batum.
Batum was coveted by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Their GM, David Kahn, thought he was the piece to pair with Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love, and bring Minnesota to the playoffs. However, a string of guards seems to have sabotaged this plan, and created the idea that spite is running the show for both teams, rather than the best interests of the Blazers and T-Wolves.
The story starts in 2009, when Tom Penn, the assistant general manager of the Blazers at the time, negotiated to become the new general manager of the Timberwolves. The problem was Penn did not want the job. He wanted a raise from Portland owner Paul Allen, and used the negotiation as leverage. Allen would later fire Kevin Pritchard and Penn, partly over this incident
Story gets stranger in 2010, when the Blazers sent Martell Webster to Minnesota for Ryan Gomes and a first-round pick that would become Luke Babbitt. What Pritchard did not tell Minnesota was that Webster needed back surgery. When Webster eventually got hurt and got the surgery, the Timberwolves sought compensation, implying that Allen had intentionally hid the information as revenge for the Penn incident. The Timberwolves have been appealing to the league for compensation ever since.
Flash forward to this free agency. Brandon Roy wanted to return to the league, and the Blazers would be on the hook for his salary, minus what a new team pays him, if any team signed him. The team that signed him? You guessed it. The Wolves did not need a point guard, not with recent first-round pick Rubio on roster. But they signed him for $10 million over two years, putting Portland on the hook for the rest.
Which brings us to Batum. The Wolves offered several deals for Batum in a sign-and-trade agreement, including a reported three first-round picks, or a first-round pick and last year’s number two draft pick Derrick Williams. The Wolves even tried working a three-way trade that would have sent Kyle Korver to Portland from Chicago. For a team rebuilding, any of these options would be a tremendous boon.
The Blazers… said no. To all of them. The Wolves were left with no choice, and signed Batum to an offer sheet of four years and $46 million. Olshey already stated that Batum’s value is not nearly that high, yet the Blazers are left to either overpay Batum, or let him go for nothing, all because of a grudge.
When personal feelings interfere with how you perform your job, bad things are bound to happen. Whether the blame for what happens from here goes on Kevin Pritchard, Tom Penn, Neil Olshey, or Paul Allen, the fact remains clear: for a team rebuilding, the Blazers made the wrong move.