Posted Oct 18, 2012 11:56 AM
This could be one of the best things ever to happen to Nicolas Batum.
The contract, obviously, a four-year deal worth a reported $45 million that came after a season of 13.9 points and 4.6 rebounds a game. The offer sheet from the Timberwolves and the match by the Trail Blazers definitely made for a pretty decent few days.
But it is more than the money. It's that everyone can spot Batum now. There is nowhere to hide from the new level of expectations from fans (especially in his adopted Portland, considering they still belong to each other after much summer angst) or from the media. There is just a 23-year-old small forward shoved into a spotlight he never would have asked for.
Batum has always been a talent playing a losing game against his passive personality, but he can no longer blend into the background. Brandon Roy is gone. Greg Oden is gone. Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard are in. Forty-five mil is in. A fire is being lit under Batum in a way he always needed but was never going to get under normal circumstances.
And he is accepting the new burden rather than denying the existence.
"I think different players react to a new contract in different ways, depending on the guy," said Terry Stotts, beginning his first year as Trail Blazers coach. "I think Nic has a good understanding of where he is and what he needs and where he needs to grow as a player. That's really my concern. I know it's good fodder. But I think the contract, to me, should be a side issue for him and he just continues to develop as a player."
This is the Batum the Blazers should want to see, the one being pushed at the start of his fifth season, the one knowing the dollar signs in neon lights demand that he snap out of the inconsistent play. The one getting himself revved up to be a leader and a dependable producer.
He needs this. Portland needs this.
"A good thing," Batum called the burden of proof in front of him. "This is a challenge to live up to the contract. Maybe I need the challenge to live up to this contract. I take it as a challenge to prove to people, 'Yeah, I deserve it and they (the Trail Blazers) didn't make a mistake, they did a good thing.'
"This is a new start for everybody on this team. It's going to be a new start for me also. Now I can prove to everybody that I know what I can do. I can be one of the best players in this league at my position, at small forward. I did a good thing last year as a sixth man. Now, because I'm going to be more of a leader, I'm going to have more responsibility, I can show people what I can do. I've got to work even more."
He has to play like an All-Star to justify an average of $11.25 million a season. He cannot be passive anymore.
"Yeah," Batum said, seemingly wanting the pressure. "Maybe. I'm going to do everything to do it."
He remembers talking with Tony Parker in the summer during their time together with the French national team around the Olympics and how Parker urged him to wave off the pressure others try to create. Just play your game, Parker instructed. It was exactly the right thing to say to a friend.
But Nicolas Batum should not keep doing what he has been doing. Not at these wages. Batum bought these demands, for $45 million.
"I understand that," he said. "Now I've got to prove."
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