The French Disconnection

Au revoir.  Goodbye to you and I, but the native version of a certain Portland Trail Blazers forward who I’m inching ever closer to bidding just that.

“Real fans” cringe at the thought of critical remarks regarding their team and its players, but I’m a tough love kind of guy, and Nicolas Batum is making it ever easier with his limited progression as a player, inconsistency as a difference maker, and inability to matter when his team needs him most, to critique and question the value of a player making roughly $11 million a year.

Last Wednesday, Portland needed Nicolas Batum.  There was no LaMarcus Aldridge and his 20+ points, no Joel Freeland and Meyers Leonard to battle in the paint, and as it turns out, no veteran Frenchman to fill the void against a San Antonio Spurs team thought to be amongst the best in the league.

Against the Spurs, who were playing without 2 of their best players, the Blazers struggled to score, broke-down defensively during a deciding stretch to start the fourth quarter, and simply couldn’t get a basket to stem the tide of a team who understands how to win, opposed to one still looking for a couple missing components vital to separating from the pack.

Portland’s highly-paid forward isn’t earning his money.  Yes, he contributes.  Nicolas can score, he can rebound, he can distribute, and he’s capable of defending the league’s most athletic players on the perimeter; something few in the game can be trusted to do.  But in spite of the ability to do the aforementioned on any given night, it’s the fact that he can’t or won’t on any given night which has frustrated me over the years, and has me at wit’s end regarding one of the highest paid “role players” in the history of professional sports.

$11 million a year is “big boy” money.  It’s a commitment to a player who’s contractually obligated to perform under the brightest of lights.  You may not find that written anywhere amidst the contract of players of that ilk, but you will find that in the inferred fine print penciled-in by franchises who pay it, and fans responsible for holding them both accountable.  And that’s what I’m doing:  Holding Nicolas Batum accountable for the egg he laid last Wednesday night, and the fact that he lost the right to lay that egg when he asked for that contract and essentially asked out of Portland in the process of getting that contract more than a year-and-a-half ago.

At that rate, it’s not good enough to do it from time-to-time.  I’m not asking Nic to be LeBron James, Kevin Durant, or even LaMarcus Aldridge.  Portland has a #1 in Aldridge, and found their #2 with Damian Lillard a year ago, so they don’t necessarily need Batum to lead the team regularly in any particular statistical category, but rather do so on those given nights when their “primaries” aren’t performing, or are incapable due to injury or any other unforeseen absence.  Like last week versus the Spurs.

What’s so frustrating is … he can do it!  Physically he has all the tools to be the player this franchise needs him to be, but for whatever reason or reasons, the Nicolas Batum we saw last Wednesday night gets in the way of the Nicolas Batum we continually hope will grow-out of that same guy we saw last Wednesday night.  And I don’t get it.

I want to like the guy, and I think the reason I want to like him as much as I do, in addition to the reason he angers me the way he does, is because I do and always have seen a skill set capable of so much more.  I see a guy who can knock down the 3.  I see a guy who can finish at the basket.  And I see a guy built to lock people down defensively for key stretches in games.  But I don’t see him do it consistently, and I can’t count on him to do it when his team desperately needs him to do it most.  Which is why I’m falling off his bandwagon, and why I’m nearly ready to say goodbye.  That’s Au revoir to you, Nic.