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Saturday, July 14, 2012
Sources: Teams in grudge match

By Ric Bucher
ESPN The Magazine

The Minnesota Timberwolves' attempt to acquire restricted free agent Nicolas Batum from the Portland Trail Blazers apparently has devolved into a grudge match -- at least for the Blazers -- that involves far more than the talented young small forward.

The Timberwolves, league sources say, are prepared to sign Batum to a four-year, $46.4 million offer sheet Sunday after repeatedly trying to trade for him. They have offered as many as three future first-round draft picks and even have dangled small forward Derrick Williams, the No. 2 pick in the 2011 draft.

The Blazers have resisted every overture even though multiple sources say Portland management believes $46.4 million is vastly more than Batum is worth.

Batum's desire to leave Portland began last winter when the Blazers offered him an extension that averaged $5 million per year, a source said. That is less than half of what Minnesota is prepared to offer now.

The Timberwolves also tried to orchestrate a deal that would have sent small forward Kyle Korver to the Blazers, along with the future first-round picks, in a three-way deal involving the Chicago Bulls. That, too, was rejected by Portland.

The Bulls agreed to trade Korver to the Atlanta Hawks as part of a three-team deal involving the Timberwolves on Friday night.

This, of course, is not the first time the Blazers and Timberwolves have had trade talks -- and that's part of the problem. Even before the battle for Batum began, the teams were working to resolve a dispute, a league source said.

The Blazers traded swingman Martell Webster to the Timberwolves in a 2010 draft-night trade for Ryan Gomes and the rights to Minnesota's No. 16 pick, Luke Babbitt. The following fall, Webster had back surgery because of a bulging disk. The Blazers were aware of the injury but did not disclose it before the trade, a league source said. The two teams since have been quietly negotiating compensatory terms but have not been able to reach an agreement.

The Timberwolves released Webster on Friday as part of a cost-cutting measure to open salary-cap room for Batum's offer sheet.

Nicolas Batum
Batum

That former Blazers guard Brandon Roy has agreed to a two-year, $10 million deal with the Timberwolves also has Portland owner Paul Allen thinking Minnesota is trying to make life difficult for him, a source said.

Roy retired before last season because of degenerative knees. The Blazers still owed him $49 million over three years at the time, but an insurance policy was expected to cover a significant chunk of that. If he returns to play, however, that policy no longer can be invoked and the Blazers are back on the hook for what they owe him, minus the $10 million Minnesota will pay him, sources say. The balance due from the Blazers could be as much as $17 million, one source said.

Timberwolves president David Kahn is from Portland and once covered the team as a sportswriter for The Oregonian, but a team source insists there is no personal element coloring the Timberwolves' interest in Batum or Roy or pursuing damages for Webster. The team even offered to relax its position on Webster in exchange for dealing them Batum.

As for Roy, "He chose Minnesota, and if he weren't playing for them, he'd be playing somewhere else and Paul would still be out that money," a source said.

Neither Blazers general manager Neil Olshey nor Kahn could be reached for comment.