We know the Lakers should be interested in Hornets Small Forward Nic Batum. Besides Kevin Durant and LeBron James — neither of whom the Lakers will sign, much less meet with — Batum is the top SF on the market and has a skill set the Lakers desperately need. It will take the max to sign him which, for Batum, is a salary starting at $26 million.
He will make this amount of money and, in the new NBA economy, will make it easily. Teams will line up to offer it to him. The question is which team will he want to pay it to him?
This is where the Lakers come in. It has long been believed the Hornets have more than just the inside track at retaining Batum, but that it is a foregone conclusion. The versatile forward was a lynch-pin to Steve Clifford’s schemes on both sides of the ball and helped the Hornets return to the playoffs. They would give him the money and he would return.
Maybe those assumptions jumped the gun a bit? Brad Turner of the LA Times says the Lakers may be in play:
Free agent small forward Nicolas Batum mulling over options, including talking with Lakers, source. He's flying from Paris to US tomorrow.
— Brad Turner (@BA_Turner) June 29, 2016
I am not doubting Turner’s reporting at all. The Lakers have money to spend, have fantastic brand recognition and history despite several consecutive down seasons, have budding young talent, and are still in Los Angeles. The perception of their status as a free agent destination has taken hits, but someone is going to take their money eventually. Maybe Batum is that guy.
Still, though, Turner’s report also feels very much like a leverage play by Batum/his camp to ensure he gets the max. Everyone knows the Lakers needs, their cap space situation, and their desire to sign impact free agents. There are few things easier than to leak that your free agent is willing to consider the Lakers and hope it impacts negotiations with a team higher on your list.
I am not saying this is what Batum is doing, but when I first read this report it was the first thing which popped into my head. Now, if Batum actually meets with the Lakers rather than just “mulling over his options” with them, let’s talk more. While the Lakers have not had great success closing once they get a free agent in the room lately, getting in the room is the first step. So, it would be nice to get that chance with Batum.
The situation bears watching, for sure. I just don’t have my hopes up — yet. Things can change quickly, though. And Batum sure would be a nice get even if he will be quite expensive.