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Nicolas Batum

Bret Hartman, Associated Press

Offer now official in edgy game of chicken

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA
  • Star Tribune
  • July 16, 2012 - 6:03 AM

The Timberwolves on Sunday finally, officially extended that supersized $45.5 million offer sheet to restricted free agent Nicolas Batum. Portland now has three days to answer simply with the formality of matching it.

If the Trail Blazers weren't willing to accept future first-round draft picks and/or players from the Wolves in sign-and-trade discussions for Batum, then they won't let him just walk away for nothing.

Given all that has transpired between the teams, expect the Blazers to wait until late before doing so, just to delay the Wolves further in the free-agency market until then.

That's 11 p.m. Wednesday, Twin Cities time.

A Wolves representative delivered the offer sheet to Trail Blazers General Manager Neil Olshey in Las Vegas on Sunday afternoon, a seemingly civil act in a relationship between two franchises that appears to have grown catty, if not outright contentious, over time.

It's a history that, at least for the Blazers and their powerful owner Paul Allen, might pre-date the David Kahn era in Minnesota.

The Wolves received permission to talk with Portland assistant GM Tom Penn late during their search for a general manager to replace Kevin McHale in the spring of 2009. At the time, the Wolves thought they might have found their man. In retrospect, Penn's agent orchestrated the visit to play Allen for raises for clients Penn and Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard, a power play that probably contributed to both men's dismissals when Allen eventually discovered he had been duped.

Kajillionaires don't like to be duped, even if the Wolves only played unknowing pawns in the game.

The same day after Penn withdrew from consideration for the Minnesota job, the Wolves renewed discussions with Kahn and hired him a few days later.

With Kahn now on the job, the Wolves have continued for more than 18 months to seek compensation from the Trail Blazers for a 2010 trade in which they claimed Portland knowingly traded them Martell Webster with a pre-existing back injury.

The Wolves' recent contract agreement with former Portland star Brandon Roy also, according to ESPN, will cost Allen nearly $17 million. Insurance would have paid off most of Roy's $63 million contract had he stayed retired, but now Allen is back on the hook for a big chunk because of Roy's comeback, although he would have paid that money no matter what team Roy chose once he decided to play in the NBA again.

The Wolves reportedly tried to leverage their Webster compensation claim in sign-and-trade discussions for Batum. Those discussions that went ultimately nowhere and ended once Batum signed the offer sheet -- unless the three parties agree to rescind it.

Within three days, the Wolves will discover whether they have obtained Batum, a young, promising swingman whom Kahn suggests might be his team's "missing piece."

Almost certainly, though, he simply has done the Blazers' negotiating for them instead.

If so, he still has saddled a division rival with a bloated contract -- no matter Batum's bright promise -- and cleared more than $14 million in cap space he can use to sign some combination of Roy, Houston shooting guard Courtney Lee, Russian guard Alexey Shved, Boston center Greg Stiemsma and Los Angeles Lakers power forward Jordan Hill. The Wolves also reportedly are finalizing a trade that will send guard Wayne Ellington to Memphis, probably for forward Dante Cunningham.

Olshey has promised all along that the Blazers will match any offer, saying a team just doesn't let "talent walk out the door."

You also probably don't dictate terms to a guy like Paul Allen, who might someday, by this decision, come to curse the Timberwolves even more.

Jerry Zgoda • jzgoda@startribune.com

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