Nicholas Batium throws all doubts to the wind.
It’s been since the 24th. January 2020 hadn’t even played a minute of NBA basketball when the Charlotte Hornets decided to embrace the youth movement and bench the 31-year-old $120 million veteran for good. In March of this year, he publicly apologized to Hornets fans for not fulfilling his huge contract. And when Charlotte held volunteer workouts in September after not participating in the Orlando bubble, Batum was told the purpose of the minicamp was to develop the team’s young talent.
Like, okay, am I that bad? Batum thought.
The 29th. November, Batum will know the answer within minutes. It was nearly nine in the evening when Batum’s wife, Lily, stumbled into the living room while he and his son, Aiden, were cleaning up toys.
It has been revealed on American Twitter that the Hornets plan to sell Batum and use the extension clause to make room for the arrival of Gordon Hayward. Ten minutes after the news had crossed the Atlantic to the Batoum family’s Parisian living room, Nico’s phone began to explode.
The first call came from a two-time defender of the year and an old friend.
I tried to get him on our team because I know his value, Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert told ESPN. Many people have criticized him for his last few seasons with the Hornets. But we were both in Paris, and I saw him working on his body and getting in shape for the season. I knew he could make an impact on the game, as he has done before.
Soon after, Tony Parker’s name came up on Batum’s phone.
Coach Bud just called me, Parker said, referring to Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer, who was Parker’s former assistant with the San Antonio Spurs. Bud wants your number.
After months of speculation about whether some were right about his NBA mortality, Batum has lured elite playoff contenders for his services.
I am: Okay, maybe I’m not ready yet, Batum said. Because it’s only been 10 minutes [and people are already calling]. And I haven’t played [good basketball] in 18 months.
Ten minutes after they let me go, I say: Okay, um… Maybe, uh… There’s something I have to do…
The Clippers believe Batum will be one of the missing ingredients in their championship recipe. That’s why stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, owner Steve Ballmer, head coach Tyrone Lue and front office director Lawrence Frank Batum called when he made his decision.
Last season, the Los Angeles Clippers were the favorites to win the Finals. The team welcomed the hype, only to reduce it uncomfortably. Personalities did not always match, leadership was lacking, and the pandemic break only exacerbated these problems.
Batum watched the action from a distance. One analyst on the French live site called the Clippers’ first game a bubble recovery. Thinking about their location, he saw that they matched.
What happened last year, when [the Clippers] were heavily criticized, didn’t go as planned, Batum said. You feel the same way about me. I am: Why not?
We have a history together, Batum told ESPN. With the Clippers, their story and mine are similar.
Four months later, the French attacker is playing a key role in the Clippers’ much-needed title run.
Batum played the second most minutes of the season for the Clippers and found several ways to make an impact on the court. AP Photo/Jae Jae Hong
Five weeks after winning consecutive games, the inconsistent Clippers lost by 21 points in a game against the Atlanta Hawks in late March. With 6:29 remaining in the third quarter, an angry Lue sent a message to his team and removed his starting five from the game.
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The Clippers cut the lead to four points over the next 12 minutes before Leonard and George scored the fourth point in a surprising 119-110 victory.
While Terence Mann (21 points) and Luke Kennard (20 points) fueled the comeback, Kennard took care of Batum with a second-half turnaround game and a calming influence.
The way he controlled what we did, Kennard said. Attacking, defending, coming at us, talking at us in time-outs.
Even though it doesn’t show up in the stats, Nick Batum was our leader at the end of the game.
Batum did not score a point in the win and finished with four rebounds and three assists in 23 minutes. Last season, when Batum was trying to live up to his huge contract, this kind of game would have been a disaster.
Oh, I’d be crucified, Batum said.
While Batum doesn’t score big numbers in Los Angeles, he does make the third most minutes behind Leonard and George. He started his first 37 games, but when Lou recently placed Marcus Morris Sr. in the starting lineup to take over Morris’ game, Batum took on a supporting role.
I think it’s probably the best contract of the entire NBA offseason, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.
He had an average of 8.4 points with a record of 42.3 percent shot from beyond the arc. And he complements Leonard and George by burying 54% of his three-point attempts as a duo, according to Second Spectrum Tracking.
He almost never makes bad decisions, Gobert said. He’s a great playmaker. He’s a versatile defender. He is very tall and can fit into any attacking and defensive system. He’s very effective from three-point range. He had an incredible impact on the Clippers team every night.
I obviously need to get better [at recruiting].
Serge Ibaka and Nicolas Batum use French to communicate and strategize on the field. David Sherman/NWAE via Getty Images
It happens every Clippers game when Batum and Serge Ibaka are on the court.
They often look at each other during a free throw attempt and think out loud about their strategy:
- Serge, next time you switch players, I’ll roll and you take refuge and shoot. — Serge, next time I come up short, you pick and shoot.
- On the Vas-Changer. During the shift on the pick-n-roll. — we swap. Let’s turn on the recording reel.
- A va-dubler! A va-dubler! For two-tone helmets. — double, double! We’ll double your friend.
- After will play two ! Two! Two! — We’re going two by two! 2 ! 2 ! (Two – Clippers zone defense)
Some opponents protested… No, come on, you can’t do that! — when Batoum and Ibaka switch to French.
We use it to our advantage, Batum said. We had to learn English in this country. So learn French.
Last season, the Clippers seemed at times not to be talking to each other when they squandered a 3-1 lead in the series against the Denver Nuggets in the second round. This year, Batum and Ibaka do their best to reveal the elusive chemistry of the team.
Before Nick and I joined, they had a good team, Ibaka told ESPN. But] we brought a little more salt and pepper. The food was already prepared. Just add a little salt and pepper.
The real test for these Clippers will be the start of the playoffs next month. Batum will be challenged to test sharpshooters, hit three-pointers under pressure and keep his teammates calm in crunch time. A year after some questioned their own NBA fate, Batum’s presence will make a significant difference.
He’s a great teammate, George said. It’s the perfect team for him because he doesn’t have to take on a lot of responsibility, he doesn’t have to do everything….. It fits perfectly.
Last season, Batum and the Clippers failed to live up to expectations. The two men will now try to write a new story together.
I don’t know, to be honest, I’m the missing piece, Batum said. But I have a chance to be on a good team, especially with what has happened to me the last two years.
I just want to make sure that we work together as a team, on and off the field.
ESPN’s Tim McMahon contributed to this story.
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