12:30 update: Check out the video clip on the right of Batum on Rip City Live last night.
Last night prior to the Blazers' win over the Clippers, Nic Batum sat down for an interview with us on Rip City Live.
During the conversation, I asked him about the ongoing negotiations for a contract extension and he was very firm in pointing out that playing time is as important -- or even more important -- than the money.
He's 23 years old, made leaps-and-bounds improvement over the last offseason, wanted to come back this season and show everyone how much he's improved and what happens? His playing time is chopped by about 10 minutes per game. He also talked about how well Gerald Wallace is playing and how he must earn his playing time.
Then Batum went out in the first half of Tuesday night's game and scored nine points and had a big defensive impact. Only to barely play in the second half and finish with a season-low 16 minutes on the floor.
I've said this from the start of the season but at some point, the Trail Blazers really ought to choose between their young small forward who many in the NBA believe to be an emerging star, or their veteran small forward who is playing (most of the time) like a borderline all-star.
These situations are terrific problems for teams to solve because Batum is young, full of promise and ready for a breakout season. But in limited playing time, he hasn't produced as well as expected. But at some point, you have to get playing time to get production.
Oh, but you have to EARN those minutes, right?
Well, no. Not really. The real crux of the problem is that in actuality, players reach a certain status when they really don't have to earn the minutes. They've put enough good credit in the bank with their play in the league or with their coach that they're guaranteed minutes, regardless of how they play.
The obvious extreme example would be LaMarcus Aldridge. You're going to stick with a player like that. You're going to let him play through the rough spots because you know what he can do. Young players, though, don't have that kind of credit history.
So Batum, after four seasons as a Trail Blazer, still doesn't have that sort of earned trust with his coaches to override what Wallace is bringing to the team. And the coaching staff doesn't seem to feel it has many other options of using Batum in other positions.
You can debate the merits of that all you want, but it's certainly what we're seeing play out. And it's a dangerous game for a franchise. Coaches are never much interested in developing players for the future -- especially if they're not sure they're going to be a part of that future. They're going to play the people who can win for them RIGHT NOW.
But the consequences of that are often that you allow a good young player, a cornerstone, to slip away from your franchise -- sacrificing long-term gain for short-term success. Sometimes, that's worth it if you're gunning for a title, but the Trail Blazers have made some monumental mistakes by doing that.
The first one was the decision to deal Moses Malone in training camp during the 1976-77 season. The public posture at the time was, he wasn't going to get enough playing time behind Bill Walton and Maurice Lucas but the real reason was the front office didn't want to have to pay his huge salary to be a backup center, and by the way, a player whose talent they severely undervalued.
Big mistake. They didn't know how good the kid would get and it cost the franchise multiple championships.
Another time it happened was when Portland dealt promising guard Drazen Petrovic to New Jersey in a three-team trade for Walter Davis in the 1990-91 season. The Blazers wanted an experienced three-point shooter and felt Davis would be a difference-maker in getting them a title but it didn't work out that way. Petrovic went on to become a third-team All-NBA selection and one of the best shooters in the league before his death in an auto accident.
And how about the Jermaine O'Neal-for-Dale Davis trade? Same sort of situation.
I know the Blazers front office -- shell-shocked still from so many injuries over the last several seasons -- wants to make sure there is depth behind Wallace, who has had his injury problems over the years. (Wallace, in case you don't know, went through a stretch of four concussions in four years at Charlotte, and the final one was what is called a "Grade 3" concussion -- which is very serious.) And with the way this guy plays, I wouldn't say another concussion is out of the question.
I think you could make a case that it's an optimum time to deal Wallace, given that he is playing well, can opt out of his contract after this season and says he's not now interested in talking about an extension in Portland. There's a possibility that he walks after this season.
Or you could roll the dice and see what you could get for Batum, a player a great many teams would love to grab.
There's also a possibility that with both approaching free agency, the Blazers -- if they don't make a move -- could eventually lose them both, which is a cringe-worthy thought.
But this, after all, is why they pay general managers all that dough. And yes, the Blazers DO have a general manager. They call him "acting" GM Chad Buchanan but so far he's been Oscar worthy.