Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 7/18/12
MINNEAPOLIS Portland had until 10:59 p.m. Wednesday to match the Timberwolves' reported four-year, 46.5 million offer to small forward Nicolas Batum. Just after 4 p.m., it announced its decision.Batum will remain a Trail Blazer. Minnesota can begin to move on, to pick up the pieces after this weeks-long soap opera.Portland had been adamant for weeks that it would match any offer presented to the restricted free agent, and sign-and-trade talks between the Trail Blazers and Timberwolves fell apart late last week. Batum's fate was sealed before the Timberwolves sent the signed offer sheet to Portland on Sunday night a formality, really yet the Trail Blazers milked their advantage for all it was worth.And in some ways, why not? Batum made 2.16 million last season, and after matching the Timberwolves' deal, the Trail Blazers will be forced to pay him more than 10 million next season. That's five times what he made in 2011-12, nearly as much as the 12.9 million Kevin Love will make next season. It might be an inflated price for a solid player, driven up by contentious negotiations. Portland will now be overpaying, and the Timberwolves have ample cap space. Who knows if this whole thing was a ploy by Batum to drive up his price? Tell the world that you want to go to a team that can't have you, convince that team to offer big money all the while knowing that your own team will match. Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey, with his bold statements about not letting Batum go, ensured that such a game might actually work for the small forward if he chose to try it, and now, Portland might be dealing with the consequences.Or maybe, just maybe, all the machinations were truth. It'll be hard to ever know.It's no wonder the Trail Blazers decided to exercise their right to eat up five full days the Timberwolves could have used to pursue other players. It was their right, yet it made the situation seem as if it might never be resolved.However, it had to end, and starting at about 12 a.m. Wednesday, Batum tweeted several messages that seemed to cement his already predicted return to Portland:@nicolas88batum: Heading to the airport...@nicolas88batum: Heading to....@nicolas88batum: @ Amsterdam gotta hurry to get the 10.20am flight to...@nicolas88batum: To PDX Oregon!In addition, he tweeted one last message in French, saying that he'd return to Europe for games next weekend.The terms of Batum's contract with the Trail Blazers were not immediately available, but they'll be at least as large as what the Timberwolves offered. At this point, though, that should be old news for the Timberwolves, irrelevant. At this point, the team has more than 15 million in salary cap space to sign players and make good on verbal agreements with Brandon Roy and Alexey Shved. There's still room to sign another player, maybe several depending which direction the team decides to go.It's time to forget about Nicolas Batum."We are disappointed that Nicolas Batum will not be on our team and wish him the best in the future," Timberwolves president of basketball operations David Kahn said in a statement. "However, we were prepared for the possibility of this outcome and will move forward with our other plans. We are positioned well from a salary cap standpoint and will continue to explore additional roster moves. We are confident that we will make the necessary transactions to improve our team for the coming season and beyond."Last week, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor said the team would begin to focus on looking for big men rather than wing players once the Batum saga ended. That would make sense, especially with the additions of shooting guard Roy and small forward Chase Budinger. With Darko Milicic and Anthony Randolph gone and Anthony Tolliver likely following suit, there's really no one to back up Nikola Pekovic at center, even in an unorthodox rotation. Pekovic has been a starter for only half of a season, and he's coming off surgery, so to put so much on his shoulders alone would be a mistake.Last Friday, when the Timberwolves announced they would be signing Batum to an offer sheet on Sunday due to a technicality that forbade them to do so any sooner, one of the biggest worries was the ensuing wait. That time frame gave the Trail Blazers five days to resolve the situation, and they took almost every hour. In that time, the Timberwolves could have lost out on a free agent they'd otherwise have targeted, potentially dooming their offseason.Fortunately for Kahn, that didn't happen. No big man who would have worked in the team's system signed, and even Courtney Lee, a shooting guard whom the team has expressed interest in, remains on the market. Greg Stiemsma, Ronnie Brewer and Jordan Hill, in whom the team has also expressed interest, also remain available. This five-day waiting game could have been a disaster, but with Batum to Portland a foregone conclusion and no major opportunities missed, it can go down in history as nothing more than a pause.The free-agent chase can begin again Thursday, and next time, it has to be easier. Or so one would hope. Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter.
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