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Batum happy in Portland despite signing T'wolves offer sheet

Associated Press

7/20/2012 4:44:06 PM

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Don't believe the hype, Nicolas Batum says. He's very happy he's remaining with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Batum met with the media Friday at the Blazers' practice facility and downplayed his free agency dalliances with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

"I wanted to be in Minnesota, it's true," Batum said. "But I wanted to be back (in Portland). It was a tough choice, believe me."

In the end, the choice wasn't his. The Blazers locked up the 23-year-old restricted free agent Wednesday when they matched a four-year offer sheet from the Minnesota Timberwolves worth a reported $45 million.

Batum, a native of France and a four-year NBA veteran, said he worried that Portland would not match the offer.

"I told my girlfriend, imagine if they don't match," Batum said. "I don't want to have to play against these guys."

But as general manager Neil Olshey had promised all along, Portland did match, putting an end to nearly three weeks of speculation about whether Batum would return after averaging 13.9 points and 4.9 rebounds last season.

Under an aggressive free agency strategy employed by his agent, Batum took offers from other teams while refusing to talk to Portland until he received an offer.

The offer came early from Wolves President David Kahn, who let it be known that Batum was Minnesota's top free agent priority. After Olshey indicated that the Blazers would match any offer to Batum, Kahn attempted to engineer a sign-and-trade deal with the Blazers.

Batum acknowledged Friday that he was concerned about how fans would perceive his free agency strategy, and took pains to explain that he was never unhappy in Portland and that much of his publicized frustration last season was about the Blazers' struggles. Portland stumbled to a 28-38 season and endured coach Nate McMillan's midseason firing.

"Last year, I was mad about basketball," Batum said. "All of this process was basketball only, not about the city or anything."

Batum said Minnesota and New Orleans were his favoured destinations because of Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman and Hornets coach Monty Williams, a former Portland assistant. And while he chafed under his role for McMillan, who used him primarily as a spot-up shooter on the wing, Batum said he trusted Olshey to hire a good coach. He said he wasn't going to give his opinion on what kind of coach he would prefer.

Batum did not try to downplay the importance of the payday, which makes him one of the highest-paid small forwards in the NBA. He acknowledged he ended up with more money than he expected and said his first purchase will be a big house for his mother in France.

"I can't lie," he said. "That's a great contract."