LOS ANGELES, CA – When the name ‘Nicolas Batum‘ pops up in NBA circles, there’s an influx of admiration and praise for him. The versatile forward out of France is known as one of the best 3-and-D wings in today’s NBA with a tremendous European basketball resume. While he may have found a home with the Clippers, he’s just two years removed from wholeheartedly believing his basketball career was over.
That’s where Nicolas Batum stood in the months leading up to November 21st, 2020 – the day he was cut by the Charlotte Hornets. Batum saw a decreased role in the 2018-19 season, which was followed by appearing in just 22 of the Hornets games during the COVID-riddled 2019-20 season. The franchise wanted to focus on their youth, Batum had struggled with injuries, and his efficiency took a massive nosedive. There was no longer a role for Batum, who was waived just five days after exercising his player option for the 2020-21 season.
“I was literally cleaning my son’s toys — his little cars — in my living room and my wife calls me, ‘Check your phone!” Batum told ClutchPoints in an exclusive interview. “She found out before me.”
Batum unlocked his phone to a Woj Bomb from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, reporting that his five-year tenure with the Hornets was over before he could even find out. The French forward had already been going through a period of self-doubt, so this certainly didn’t help.
The Hornets will waive Nic Batum to create cap space to sign Gordon Hayward, reports @rick_bonnell.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 21, 2020
His team was eliminated from playoff contention by the time COVID-19 shut down the United States on March 11th, thus not qualifying for the NBA’s restart in Orlando. And even if they did, Batum was already playing sparingly for Charlotte. When he was playing, his 34.6 percent shooting from the field and 28.6 percent from three simply weren’t helping his case for more minutes.
“Do I have anything left?” and “Am I finished?” were questions Batum not only routinely asked himself, but people in France did as well.
“There was a lot of talk, especially back home,” Nicolas Batum recalled. “That’s what hurt me the most: What people said back home in France.
“Some people said I wasn’t even good enough to play in the French league. I heard that, I read that. I know the media, the fans, and even people inside the French basketball world said I wasn’t good enough to be on the national team anymore or in the French league anymore, so should I retire? I was 31 years old.”
Members within the French National Team giving up on Batum looks comical now, especially considering he recorded one of the biggest plays in National Team history. His incredible chase-down block on Klemen Prepelič in the waning seconds of the France-Slovenia semi-final match of the 2021 Olympic Games sent them to the Gold Medal game. Sure, France would’ve loved to take home the Gold, but behind Batum, ‘Les Bleus’ were able to win Silver in Men’s Basketball for the second time since 2000 and just the third time in their Olympic history.
Nic Batum's BIG-TIME block to seal France's win 😱
(via @NBCOlympics) pic.twitter.com/PJfOVCX6wt
— Yahoo Sports NBA (@YahooSportsNBA) August 5, 2021
“Back home hurt me the most,” Batum remarked. “People saying that [I was done] back home.
“People that I know said that about me, but they don’t know that I know about it. And then you consider like, ‘Well… Maybe I am done.’”
Not a chance.
Nicolas Batum’s close friend and teammate on the French National Team, Rudy Gobert, knew right away his good friend wasn’t anywhere near finished.
“I’ve heard Nico say he was retiring about four or five times,” Gobert joked to ClutchPoints. “I think he was going through a lot of stuff internally, but he loved the game so much.”
Batum received interest from multiple team almost immediately following the news of his release from the Hornets, but the four who piqued his interest the most were the Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks, Utah Jazz, and Los Angeles Clippers.
The Warriors had the allure of a championship-winning system led by Stephen Curry and Steve Kerr. The Milwaukee Bucks had a rising European star in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Rudy Gobert, one of Nicolas Batum’s closest friends in the league, tried his hardest to get him to the Utah Jazz.
“Of course [I recruited him],” Gobert told ClutchPoints. “I tried to bring him to Utah three years ago. He didn’t listen to me. And then after that, he had a great year with the Clippers.”
Nicolas Batum chose to join the Los Angeles Clippers as a free agent. Unlike other teams who presented one or two members of the team when reaching out to him, the Clippers had five members reach out to him within a few hours.
Chairman Steve Ballmer, President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank, newly-promoted head coach Tyronn Lue, as well as superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George all reached out to Nicolas Batum to express their desire to have him join the Clippers.
“You can help us win a championship and I’m not talking about being on the bench. I’m talking about being on the court,” Batum recalled being told in their phone conversation.
“Have you seen me the last 18 months and what’s happened to me?” replied Batum.
“Yeah, but we don’t care. We know you, you’re a great basketball player, high IQ, you’d be perfect with those guys,” Lawrence Frank responded.
The Clippers were coming off their own disappointing postseason in the bubble and were looking to revamp their roster with the necessary wings and pieces around Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
“I wasn’t picky. I was just happy to have a team call me, but this is the only team I talked to Kawhi, PG, Ty, Lawrence, and Steve Ballmer in the same night in the same three-to-four hour span. All of them called me. Texted with Kawhi, but talked to PG, talked to Ty, Lawrence, and Steve Ballmer. I was like, ‘okay this team really, really wants me.’
The large contingent of Clippers reaching out to him with the promise of an on-court role sold Nicolas Batum on joining the Clippers, turning down the three-time NBA Champions and his close friend in Utah. He admits he didn’t believe the Clippers would find consistent playing time for him like he previously had in Portland or early Charlotte.
That season, Nicolas Batum actually led the Clippers in total minutes played on the season at 1,835.
“You kind of knew that once he was back in the right situation, he was gonna be able to be himself again,” Rudy Gobert added. “That’s what happened here. I’m really happy for him and I still think he has plenty more years of being a really, really good basketball player.
“I knew that he still wanted to play and still wanted to win. He still had love for the game, so I felt like the last two offseasons, he’s worked the hardest that I’ve seen him work and it’s been really paying off so far.”
Even Tony Parker, a former teammate of Nicolas Batum’s and someone who owns three businesses with him, acknowledged that the forward simply wasn’t a good fit with the Hornets.
“He just didn’t like the way he was getting used in Charlotte,” Parker told ClutchPoints. “But he still has the love of the game, he’s super passionate. He’s like a glue guy, and sometimes you go to a team and you have a new coach and it doesn’t fit. And it didn’t fit for Nico the last couple years in Charlotte. But with the Clippers, it works.”
In his first year with the Clippers, Batum boasted a +/- of +339 in 67 games, behind only Kawhi Leonard (+446) and Paul George (+432). Last year was hard to gage with Leonard missing all of it and George missing most of it. This season, Batum boasts a +/- of a +94, behind only Paul George (+133) and Kawhi Leonard (+111).
More than anything, the Batum-led lineups simply pass the eye-test. Any lineup he’s in just seems to play well, and that’s not a coincidence, claims Tony Parker.
“He’s a glue guy, he does a little bit of everything,” Parker told ClutchPoints. “He’s like a perfect team guy. He does all the dirty work, and he just plays basketball the right way. And so it’s great to have guys like that who knows his role and stays in his role and does a little bit of everything.”
Rudy Gobert couldn’t agree more on Batum, who recently became the third European in NBA history to hit 1,500 career three-pointers.
“He’s a really unique player,” Gobert explained. “His size, his length, obviously, and his playmaking ability. His toughness defensively, the fact that he can shoot the three and is a very smart player, very unselfish player. It’s a luxury for every team in the league, in the world to have a Nicolas Batum that can guard multiple positions and willing to sacrifice anything he can to win.”
Earlier this summer, Nicolas Batum credited coach Tyronn Lue with ‘saving his career’ by bringing him in and putting him in positions to be successful. Lue was nothing but complimentary of his do-it-all French Army Knife.
“Whenever you have a player speak on you like that, it’s a great feeling because that’s what it’s all about,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue told ClutchPoints. “It’s about the players and trying to get the best out of players. A lot of times, the players bring the best out of a coach as well. For Nico, a guy who has been in this league for a long time and a great veteran player, just to have him say those words, that means a lot.”
“I’ve always been a fan of his. A guy 6-foot-9, who can defend multiple positions, a guy who can pass the basketball, can run pick-and-rolls, can make shots, and so to have a guy like that on your team. You know, he hadn’t played in two years, so you really didn’t know how he was gonna come in, what he was expecting, or what we were really expecting from him. We just knew he was a great talent and he’s always been a great talent, so for him to come to the Clippers, leaving Charlotte, and still have that much left in the tank, to do what he did for the team, it’s been phenomenal.”
Nicolas Batum has the Olympic Silver Medal. He has the Eurobasket Gold Medal. He even has an Under-18 European Championship Cup from 2006. At this point, all that’s missing from Batum’s career is an NBA Championship, and it would really cement a basketball great
“You play for that and you want to at least get one in your career,” says Batum on the pressures to win a title now that he’s later in his career. “This is my 15th year, I’ve never been that close. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen, but at least I gave myself a chance. That’s the biggest part. To give yourself chance to do it.”