The Charlotte Hornets lived up to their word when they said re-signing Nicolas Batum was their top priority in free agency.
Batum agreed to terms on a five-year, $120 million contract with the Hornets Friday morning, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal cannot be signed until July 7.
The Frenchman gradually solidified himself as a superb two-way player over his first six seasons in Portland. But there was a major drop-off in production in his seventh season, and Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey shipped him to Charlotte for Noah Vonleh and Gerald Henderson before last season.
Playing for Hornets coach Steve Clifford, Batum’s numbers improved. He averaged career highs in points (14.9) and assists (5.8) and also grabbed 6.1 rebounds a game for the surprising Hornets, who won 48 games before losing to Miami in seven games in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Batum rediscovered his two-way, do-everything mold in Charlotte, meshing with Kemba Walker, Al Jefferson and Marvin Williams to give the Hornets some energy and edge, pushing them back into the playoffs for the second time in Clifford’s three seasons.
Batum’s defense on the wing was a huge part of Charlotte’s success and his ability to guard multiple positions helped the Hornets match up against a variety of opponents.
As the season came to a close, Batum made no secret of his desire to remain in Charlotte. He was widely viewed as one of the most coveted free agents on the market, the kind of versatile veteran that could make a huge difference on any team he joined.
Hornets GM Rich Cho made it clear from the start that the feeling was mutual and owner Michael Jordan said he would spend the money necessary to help the team continue to build on the momentum of last season.
“Nic is a huge piece. He is our No. 1 priority,” Cho said after the season in May. “He knows that. We told him that in our exit interview. We love having him here, thought he did a great job. He had a few injuries, but overall he did a great job at both ends of the floor.”
Batum said during his exit interview that he “unfinished business” in Charlotte after the Hornets lost in seven games to the Miami Heat in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“When I came here, they let me know they wanted me to be one of the (top) two options with Kemba” Walker, Batum said in May. “I like that. I like that they trusted me. It was a pretty cool year.”
Batum also it was the first time he got to play like he wanted to in his eight years in the NBA.
Rather than entertain a number of suitors and mull leaving for another offer, Batum made the decision to stay put about four hours after the market opened.
“We got a deal!” Batum tweeted.
The contract will carry Batum, who turns 28 in December, right through his prime years and give the Hornets a much-needed veteran presence to build alongside of the dynamic Walker.
With Batum in the fold, the Hornets can now turn their attention to other free agents. Williams, Jefferson, point guard Jeremy Lin and shooting guard Courtney Lee are all free agents, and the Hornets are in the market for more shooting, depth and toughness to compete in the East.