Charlotte took a major step towards maintaining its new versatile identity, but it came at a steep price.
The Hornets agreed to re-sign unrestricted free agent forward Nicolas Batum to a five-year contract worth $120 million, according to Yahoo Sports and the Charlotte Observer. The deal reportedly includes a player option on the final season. Batum, 27, averaged a career–high 14.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists in Charlotte last season after arriving from Portland via trade. The French forward helped the Hornets win 48 games, 15 more than they won the previous season, and return to the playoffs for just the second time in the last six seasons.
With an average annual salary of $24 million which more than doubled his previous deal, Batum will be compensated as a star even though he’s struggled with consistency issues in recent years and would serve as a complementary offensive option on a championship contender. Charlotte GM Rich Cho will justify the signing by pointing to Batum’s ability to defend multiple positions, his ability to serve as an auxiliary playmaker and the fact that he helped Charlotte’s offensive efficiency improve from No. 28 in 2014-15 to No. 9 in 2015-16.
Indeed, Batum’s fit is solid in Charlotte, as he makes life easier for high-usage lead guard Kemba Walker and can theoretically team with (oft-injured) forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to form a long and imposing defensive duo on the perimeter. While Batum’s three-point shooting comes and goes, he qualifies as a floor-spacer. The Hornets, who transitioned towards a more free-flowing spread style last year, would have been up a creek trying to replace him. What’s more, they would have had some serious explaining to do if they let Batum walk just one year after parting with lottery pick Noah Vonleh to acquire him. Although it’s fair to wonder what Charlotte’s ceiling is with Batum back in the fold, there’s little doubt the floor would have fallen out if he had bounced this summer.
The final contract value comes in roughly $32 million shy of Batum’s full five-year max number and roughly $6 million more than Batum could have received on a four-year deal from outside suitors. Thanks to the player option, Batum gets the best of both worlds: he has a massive salary figure on the back-end in the event he declines sharply and he gets the ability to re-enter the market at age 31 if he so chooses.
Much like Toronto’s decision to re-sign DeMar DeRozan, Charlotte’s move to keep Batum gets filed under “grin and bear it.” Batum was one of the top “attainable” wings on this summer’s market, he’s a two-way contributor who can succeed on and off the ball, and there weren’t any obvious bargain candidates to replace him. With decisions still to come on Al Jefferson, Courtney Lee, and Marvin Williams, the Hornets should be glad they took care of their top priority quickly and at a price that should facilitate their next step too.