Brandon Roy is on his way to Minnesota to start his comeback in the same place his career began seven years ago. If Nicolas Batum has his way, he'll soon join his former Blazers teammate with the Timberwolves.
Roy agreed to terms on a two-year deal worth $10.4 million Thursday night, and Minnesota also agreed to terms with Batum on a four-year, $45 million deal with bonuses that could make the deal worth more than $50 million.
Roy announced his retirement in December after battling chronic knee injuries, and the Blazers used the amnesty clause on the remaining $63 million of his deal to make him an unrestricted free agent. But after receiving treatments on his knees over the last few months, Roy is ready to try to resume his career and will sign the offer sheet July 11 when the free agent moratorium ends.
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Batum's path to Minnesota will be much more difficult. As a restricted free agent, the Blazers can match any offer made to Batum. But his agent told The Associated Press on Thursday night that Batum is hoping Portland doesn't match Minnesota's offer or executes a sign and trade to get him to his preferred destination.
Batum and agent Bouna Ndiaye met with Blazers officials Thursday and informed them that the versatile swingman feels his best fit is in Minnesota.
"It was a very cordial meeting. There were no hard feelings," Ndiaye said. "So Nicolas basically talked about his four years with the Blazers and he expressed that maybe it was time for him to look at a place where he could be more happy."
The Blazers have been adamant that they will match any offer for Batum and weren't interested in trading the 23-year-old Frenchman. Ndiaye said Batum has great respect for the Blazers and their fans, but believes playing for Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman and alongside point guard Ricky Rubio and forward Kevin Love was the best situation for him.
Batum has averaged 10.2 points and 3.9 rebounds over four seasons with Portland, part of the reason the Blazers see him as such a valuable piece moving forward.
"We appreciated the face-to-face meeting to get our message across," Blazers general manager Neil Olshey told The Oregonian. "And that message was that we intend to match any offer and we will not facilitate any sign-and-trade scenarios."
Batum visited Minnesota this week and met with owner Glen Taylor, team president David Kahn and Adelman and was sold on the franchise's direction and the Twin Cities. Ndiaye said Batum is hoping the Blazers will do for him what the Suns did for Steve Nash and grant his request to move on to a place where he can be happy and competitive.
"Nicolas said 'I really respect the Blazers' organization, the Blazers' fans,'" Ndiaye said. "He even mentioned he really loved to be coached by (former assistant) Monty Williams, who was a mentor. But his choice, his heart went to Minneapolis."
Things started to sour for Batum and Portland in January when the Blazers didn't sign him to a long-term extension, saying at the time that they considered him a big part of their future but wanted to retain salary cap flexibility before reaching a deal with him. Ndiaye said Batum felt stifled in Portland's system and wanted to spend less time standing in the corner and shooting 3-pointers and more time breaking down defenders off the dribble and getting to the rim.
"Nicolas expressed this during his meeting with the Blazers," Ndiaye said. "He was never himself. He has mentioned this in the meeting. He said, 'I just want to be me. I don't want to stand in the corner. I'm a player with movement. I was locked up in the corner. So he has expressed that for sure."
The one thing that could complicate Portland's plan to keep Batum is a reported max offer to Indiana center Roy Hibbert. If Hibbert takes the deal, and Minnesota's offer is big enough, the Blazers could be hampered financially starting in 2013-14, when the new collective bargaining agreement levies much harsher fiscal penalties for exceeding the salary cap.
The 27-year-old Roy, meanwhile, is returning to the place where it all began, albeit very briefly. The Timberwolves drafted Roy in 2006, but traded him that night for Villanova guard Randy Foye. Former GM Kevin McHale's decision to make the deal haunted the franchise for years, as Roy emerged as one of the bright young stars in the league and one of the game's top closers while Foye languished through injuries and had difficulty making an impact before being traded to Washington in 2009.
But one of the reasons McHale made the decision was concern about Roy's knees, and a lack of cartilage severely limited him in 2010-11, when he averaged just 12.2 points, 27.9 minutes and shot 40 percent from the field.
Roy was also being courted by Chicago, Indiana, Cleveland, Dallas and Golden State, but ultimately chose Minnesota, where he'll be relied upon to be a veteran presence on a very young team while likely playing smaller minutes, at least at first, to maximize his production. The Oregonian first reported Roy's decision.
Kahn, Taylor, Adelman and Wolves athletic trainer Greg Farnam visited Roy in Seattle last week to make a hard push for him. Roy is also close with Wolves assistant Bill Bayno, who coached him in Portland.
Bayno also is a big part of Batum's desire to play in Minnesota. The two remain close and Batum rents Bayno's house in Portland.
"Nicolas is really anxious to join and play with a great unselfish point guard, excited to play with a young team that thinks he is the missing piece," Ndiaye said. "He had a great feel with the coach Rick Adelman and Nicolas thinks this is a system that will fit him."