If there are any concerns that Tyronn Lue and the LA Clippers will lose Nicolas Batum for another destination in free agency, it might be time to put them away. That’s according to Batum himself, anyway.
Last summer, Batum signed a two-year deal with a player option for the second season. He joined Kawhi Leonard and Reggie Jackson in signing deals to return to the Clippers team that made a Western Conference Finals run in the 2020-21 season despite being shorthanded. Now, Batum has a decision to make with his player option.
Nicolas Batum recently joined the French online show First Team, which has shows airing on YouTube and Twitch. In a snippet from the episode, the French forward was asked about his future in the NBA. Here’s more or less how the conversation went, per a French translator:
Interviewer: “If you could play anywhere, wherever you wanted to end your career, where would it be? Clippers or elsewhere?”
Nicolas Batum: “Tyronn Lue saved my life.”
Interviewer, with a laugh: “So the Clippers.”
Batum: “So the Clippers until they boot me out. Tyronn Lue saved me.”
Interview: “So you feel like you are indebted?”
Batum: “Yes, absolutely.”
Talk about big praise for Tyronn Lue.
Nicolas Batum was waived by the Hornets just one month before the start of the 2020-21 NBA season. He was entering the final year of a five-year, $120 million deal with Charlotte when he was waived, and was coming off a season where he only played 22 of the Hornets’ 65 games in what was the COVID-19 lockdown season.
His opportunities with Charlotte dwindled, and it made sense for both parties to move on. The unfortunate part, however, is that Batum said he found out he was being waived via social media. Then he arrived in Los Angeles.
Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue spoke exclusively with ClutchPoints shortly after Batum’s comments were made public Monday. It was nothing but love and appreciation for his player.
“He said what?!” Lue quickly asked when first told of Batum’s comments.
“Batum essentially said you saved his life and he feels indebted to you and the Clippers,” I repeated in response.
“Wow,” a dumbfounded Lue said, followed by a chuckle and about six seconds of silence.
After gathering his thoughts, Lue explained what those comments meant to him.
“Whenever you have a player speak on you like that, it’s a great feeling because that’s what it’s all about,” Lue told ClutchPoints Monday. “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.”
Batum’s first year with the Clippers was also Tyronn Lue’s first as head coach of the organization. Under Lue, Batum has seemingly seen a resurgence as the two-way player that he was during his prime. He shot 40 percent from 3-point land for the first time since his sophomore season, and did so in back-to-back seasons with the Clippers.
Additionally, Nicolas Batum’s versatility has allowed Lue and the Clippers to play both small and big, with Batum being a big contributing factor.
“Just means a lot to me because of what I’m trying to establish with the Clippers and where I come from and just be able to continue to try to be better and get better every year,” Lue continued. “For your players to speak highly of you, that’s really a great feeling. You know Nico’s done so much for the organization. The things he’s been able to do and able to accomplish with this team has been great as well. It’s not a one-way street. Like he’s been great for me as well. He’s one of my favorite guys that I’ve been able to coach since I’ve been in the league, so to hear that come from him, that means a lot.”
Nicolas Batum will be entering his 15th year in the NBA after stops in Portland and Charlotte. He also played professionally before coming to the NBA and has continued to play for the French National team whenever the opportunity has presented itself.
Last summer, Batum and Team France fell to the United States in the gold-medal game of the Tokyo Olympics. His game-saving block in the round prior propelled France to that final matchup, and his versatility was on display the entire summer.
“I’ve always been a fan of his,” Tyronn Lue added of Batum. “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.”
The LA Clippers will enter the 2022-23 NBA season as a favorite for the 2023 NBA title. There’s no doubt the returns of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to the Tyronn Lue-led team will help, but it’s the role players around them like Nicolas Batum who will make the difference between the good playoff team and a title team.