If you’ve watched the Hornets lately you might notice there’s a usual veteran presence missing. Nicolas Batum, the highly paid wing that was supposed to pair with Kemba Walker and bring the Hornets to prominence, hasn’t played in 15 games. He’s not injured. He’s fully healthy and could play at any moment. Hornets coach James Borrego has just chosen not to play him. Why? Because the Hornets have gone to full reliance on their youth movement. This means giving minutes that could go to Batum to other parts of the roster.
Many veterans wouldn’t be happy about this. Every player in the NBA has a desire to get on the floor and compete, even those with lucrative contracts, but Batum’s in an odd situation. His deal, which has a massive player option for next season, makes it hard if not impossible for the Hornets to deal him elsewhere. He’s steadily declined the last few years and just isn’t a player worth the contract he’s being paid. It isn’t a unique situation, but the timing with Batum was really unfortunate and is something that even he acknowledges. Batum sat down with The Charlotte Observer to discuss these last few disappointing years in Charlotte, explaining that at the very least he is trying to not be a distraction in the locker room.
Batum offered an apology for not playing up to the level of his massive contract. He also said he was determined not to be an “a–hole” about the fact he never plays anymore. He praised the Charlotte Hornets for their reliance on youth in this losing season, even though it has come at his expense.
“This franchise has got a bright future,” Batum said, “but I don’t think I’ll be part of it.”
“I apologize to the people here,” Batum said, “because they put so much faith in me. And it didn’t go well…. It didn’t work out. But what do I have to do? Because I’m still here.”
“I don’t want to be an a–hole,” Batum told the Observer. “I don’t want to be selfish … I don’t want to be that guy who’s like, ‘OK, let’s go out tonight. Coach sucks. Don’t show up. You shoot 25 times a game; don’t listen to him.’ No. I won’t do that. I don’t need that. They don’t need that.”
A lot of credit needs to go to Batum here. Veterans have traditionally not responded well to a lack of playing time, especially not being played at all, and very few are so matter of fact about why they’re in that situation. He understands the Hornets want to give time to the young players on the roster and there isn’t going to be much to gain from pouting and potentially harming the growth of those around him. This kind of attitude could do well when he seeks out a new team at the end of his contract.
What happens at the end of his contract is unknown though. He has a player option for one more year and it’s extremely unlikely he doesn’t opt in. Does that mean he’ll still be in a Hornets uniform by the start of next season? Maybe, but it’s far easier to trade a large expiring deal than one with multiple years left. So the Hornets will have more options and more to work with when it comes to moving Batum over the summer. Worst case he’s still around for another season until February and the two sides reach a buyout agreement. Either way, this is a relationship that’s destined to end. Both sides know it. They’re just waiting out the clock and doing so amicably.