Nicolas Batum arrived to the Charlotte Hornets in a controversial trade that sent young big man, Noah Vonleh, to the Portland Trail Blazers. It was one of many moves the Hornets made this offseason that has been fiercely discussed.
Joining that conversation was Grantland's Zach Lowe. In a pretty fantastic piece, Lowe tries to answer the question we've all been asking. What in the world are the Hornets doing? It's a must read that touches on a lot of crucial areas such as the structure of Charlotte's front office, the Hornets decision to not accept the Boston Celtics draft night trade offer, and Nicolas Batum's future with the team.
What has caught the interest of many fans, and Batum himself, is the section covering the future of the Hornets offseason acquisition. Everybody knows that there's a major possibility of Batum being nothing more than a one year rental for the Hornets, but Lowe went farther than that. He attached a team, and gave a reason, as to why this is a strong possibility.
"Batum is an impending unrestricted free agent on a borderline playoff team, diving into an unprecedented cap frenzy in which two-dozen suitors could offer $20 million per season. Batum's people have already made noise about how much Batum would like to play in Toronto, a city that appeals to his international roots, per several league sources. He is a flight risk, even though both Cho and Chad Buchanan, the team's assistant GM, know Batum well from their days in Portland. "We are very comfortable given that Chad and Rich know Nic well," Polk says."
Since Lowe not only listed Batum as potentially nothing more than a rental, but attached the Raptors to him, this has led to some interesting fan reactions. There's a very vocal crowd that see this as Lowe not merely raising the possibility of Batum leaving, but an inevitability, and are going one of two routes. They've either bashed Lowe for trusting his sources, or they criticize the Hornets for trading their youth for a rental, and honestly both reactions are completely ridiculous.
Lowe has not said that Batum leaving is a for sure thing. He's merely pointed out the fact that Batum could very likely leave, something everybody knows, and that there's a team out there he's shown interest in before. Which is really the proper way this should be getting looked at. Charlotte made a very risky move by trading away potential for a proven veteran talent. He could very likely stay, but the possibility is there that he might leave, and that can't be ignored. Even when discussing the Hornets advantages, such as the ownership of Batum's Bird rights, it still has to be pointed out that this could cost Charlotte a huge amount of money.
"The Hornets have Batum's Bird rights, and the ability to offer him more years and money than anyone else. Charlotte might have to choose between losing Batum or maxing him out, and that looks like a lose-lose — even with another cap spike likely coming in 2017-18 that will make a potential max deal for Batum a little less painful. The Hornets should try like hell to extend Batum now, as the Nuggets just did with Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari, but they don't have the cap space to offer Batum a raise this season as the carrot to coax him."
None of this has sounded like a guarantee Batum is leaving, but just that it's a possible decision in the grand scheme of things. So this raises the question. What are the chances Batum actually leaves?
At the moment, the chances Batum turns into a rental player sit at 51 percent stay, and 49 percent chance of leaving. This will obviously change after the Hornets get a chance to play some actual games, and once Batum gets to start working with his new team. If he's playing well, and the Hornets are winning games, then it would be hard to believe that he leaves. Charlotte can pay him the most money, and if he's happy in his current environment then, it would be nothing more than finding a middle ground when it comes to his salary. Charlotte controls their own destiny here, but they need to be very sure to handle this carefully.
If the Hornets have a similar season to last year full of disappointment, poor offense, and disgruntled players then Batum might see a playoff contender in Toronto, and decide that he'd rather play there whether the Hornets can pay him or not.
Obviously the easy solution to this would be for Charlotte to get Batum to sign an extension right now, but they don't seem interested in entering the luxury tax, before the next Collective Bargaining Agreement goes into effect, so the chances an extension happens feels slim.
For now, Hornets fans will have to hope that these tweets Batum sent out, in response to Lowe's article, is a positive sign for the long term future.
Just to make it clear... pic.twitter.com/YQTOoa5520— Nicolas Batum (@nicolas88batum) July 28, 2015