Well, friends, here we are in the midst of another hectic summer of NBA free agency and our Timberpups just cannot seem to catch a break. For starters, the Trail Blazers matched the Wolves offer sheet to Nicolas Batum worth 4 years and roughly $46.5 million, ending the dream of nabbing the 23-year-old rising star who can shoot, defend, and play both shooting guard and small forward (both positions of significant need). Despite signing Kevin Love to a max contract earlier this year, the Timberwolves are loaded with cap space after the amnesty of Darko, trade of Brad Miller, waiving of Martell Webster, while watching both Michael Beasley and Anthony Randolph sign elsewhere after being non-tendered. This years crop of free agents was not the greatest in recent memory, but there was no doubt that there were plenty of serviceable players that the Timberwolves could realistically sign.
The Batum saga lasted for approximately 18 days, ultimately culminating in Minnesota fans getting their hopes up followed by an inevitable, oh-so-familiar Minnesota sports letdown. The time that Minnesota spent attempting a sign-and-trade with Portland for Batum was not without its opportunity cost as potential free agent fits OJ Mayo, Lou Williams, Jamal Crawford, Landry Fields, Chauncey Billups, and most recently Courtney Lee found new homes. The sting of losing out on Batum was only made worse by seeing other viable wing options fill the needs of contending teams, while limiting Minnesota’s remaining options in free agency. The failed pursuit of Batum not only yielded Portland retaining one of their core pieces, but also contributed to the brewing rivalry between the Timberwolves and Portland.
Although Martell Webster was waived last week, David Kahn originally traded Ryan Gomes and a first-round draft pick to the Trail Blazers in return for the athletic and versatile swingman. Webster, the 6th overall selection in the 2005 draft, was stuck behind perennial All-Star Brandon Roy on a talented Trail Blazers team and Portland felt that he was ultimately expendable. Almost immediately after being shipped to Minnesota, Webster was in constant trouble with his back and required multiple back surgeries during his brief tenure with the club. Well, it turns out that it was no coincidence that Webster’s health issues began arising after he was traded to Minnesota, as it has come to light within the past few months that Portland did not disclose Webster’s health issues at the time of the trade causing much tension between the two teams. Minnesota rightfully feels that they were swindled and that Portland took advantage of the Wolves, and so this summer the two teams have been negotiating a settlement for Portland’s error. If you were wondering why Portland refused to engage in sign-and-trade talks with Minnesota for Batum (even with Minnesota reportedly dangled Derrick Williams), it’s because the two clubs appear to hate each other. New Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey and team owner Paul Allen continue to try and make life as hard as possible for the Timberwolves organization.
While the fight over Batum and the heated settlement negotiations have been enough to instill mutual animosity between the Northwest division teams, perhaps no single act has been as significant as Minnesota’s signing of ex-Trail Blazer Brandon Roy. If you recall, Roy inked a monster contract extension with the Blazers during summer 2009 worth a whopping $82 million over five years. Not too soon after signing, Roy was forced to call it quits following the 2010 season due to his degenerative knees, and the Blazers used the amnesty provision on him in order to remove the remaining $63 million off the team’s books. Although the amnesty clause requires the team to pay the player the remaining money on the contract, in Roy’s case, he was determined medically unable to play, and insurance was set to cover nearly all of that money, given that Roy stayed retired and never played in the NBA again. Well, that was quickly put into jeopardy after Roy agreed to terms with the Timberwolves only a short two weeks ago, and since Roy is now technically able to play again, insurance will not be covering a modest portion of the contract worth $17 million dollars. Now it starts to make sense why the management of both teams appear to loathe each other. Minnesota’s risky little signing of Roy not only costs Minnesota around $5 million guaranteed over two years, but the signing will now result in Portland having to cough up an additional $17 million. Take that, Paul Allen.
It will be very interesting to observe the atmosphere of the first game between the two squads as it is starting to appear as if the Timberwolves will finally have a legitimate rivalry that should be fairly competitive when considering both rosters. While the Blazers look like they are retooling for the future and are not an immediate threat to the Pups playoff chances, do not sleep on a team consisting of All-Star Lamarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, and 2012 lottery draft picks Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard. Through all of this tension, I have to say that I am extremely excited at the prospect of hating an NBA team as much as I hate the Green Bay Packers.
Photo Credits: Brent Wojahn, The Oregonian