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Updated: July 18th, 2012 7:06pm
Zulgad: Wolves unable to get last laugh in pursuit of Nicolas Batum

Zulgad: Wolves unable to get last laugh in pursuit of Nicolas Batum

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

One would hope that Nicolas Batum has enjoyed the past few weeks because odds are good he will never receive this much attention again during his NBA career.

The 23-year-old restricted free agent found himself not only being aggressively pursued by the Timberwolves, but he found out the Portland Trail Blazers thought so much of him that they were willing to match a reported four-year, $46.5 million offer sheet that he received from Minnesota.

All of this made Batum the ultimate winner in this game. He walks away with more money than he likely imagined possible when he hit the restricted market.

What isn't clear is whether the Wolves or Trail Blazers came out on top.

Maybe nobody did.

What is clear now -- and wasn't a few weeks back -- is that these two franchises clearly detest one another. When the NBA schedule is released in early August one of the first things Wolves and Blazers fans should do is find out when the four meetings between the teams will occur.

If the players can have the same distaste for each other that members of management clearly do, this could be a heck of series.

The Wolves liked Batum. That's not up for debate. The swingman averaged a career-high 13.9 points and 4.6 rebounds last season and Wolves coach Rick Adelman considered him a potentially very good fit.

But as the Wolves' pursuit of Batum went from sign-and-trade talks to finally an offer sheet being signed and submitted last Sunday, more and more of the animosity between the Wolves and Blazers came to light.

The Wolves felt used in 2009 when former Blazers executive Tom Penn interviewed for the job running their basketball operations - a position that went to David Kahn, who still has a house in Portland -- only to see Penn use that interview as an opportunity to get a raise in Portland.

The Wolves felt the Blazers pulled a fast one on them by knowingly trading them Martell Webster in 2010 despite the fact Portland knew he had a back issue.

Then there is the situation involving guard Brandon Roy, who is going to end his retirement to play for the Wolves. Roy retired last December from the Blazers because of knee issues, reportedly triggering Portland's insurance policy on him that covered $17 million of the $68 million he was owed after the Blazers used their amnesty clause to release him.

Comcast Sports Net Northwest reports that policy is valid as long as the shooting guard remains retired, but clearly that isn't going to happen. Roy, of course, was intent on ending his retirement no matter which team he landed with.

The fact it was the Wolves, however, certainly doesn't improve relations at all.

You might as well throw in the fact that Adelman was the long-time coach of the Blazers before being fired in the mid-1990s.

The Blazers took a few final verbal potshots at the Wolves on Wednesday when general manager Neil Olshey announced the team had matched the offer sheet to Batum.

Olshey attempted to dismiss Batum's comments about wanting out of Portland so he could play in Minnesota, saying the player's agent and the Wolves were behind those statements. Olshey also had taken a few public jabs at Kahn and the state of Minnesota during the process.

Wolves owner Glen Taylor, at one point, made the rare move of calling an opposing GM, Olshey in this case, to ask why the Blazers simply didn't sign their own player to a contract if they liked him so much.

All in all, it was very childish and at times a lot of fun to watch unfold.

What remains to be seen now is what the Wolves do to improve upon a team that is built around power forward Kevin Love and point guard Ricky Rubio, who is expected to return from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee at some point next season.

Love has made it clear he wants to see the roster improved and there is little doubt that the 66-year-old Adelman feels the same way.

Did the Wolves cost themselves in free agency by spending so much time working to get Batum, a player you could argue they knew they wouldn't be able to acquire unless it came in the type of sign-and-trade deal that Portland clearly didn't want to do?

The only thing that has gotten out so far is that the Wolves were unable to make a push for Luis Scola after Houston used its amnesty designation on the forward. The Wolves did not have sufficient cap space to go after Scola when his rights went up for bid and the Phoenix Suns got him.

The Wolves will now turn their attention elsewhere in an attempt to get the pieces that were missing last season. Roy officially will sign a two-year, $10.4 million deal and Russian guard Alexey Shved also will make his deal official.

The team will turn its attention to a combination that could include Boston restricted free agent Greg Stiemsma, Lakers unrestricted free agent Jordan Hill, shooting guards Courtney Lee (Houston) and Ronnie Brewer (Chicago) and possibly power forward Carl Landry (New Orleans).

No matter which players the Wolves get, they will claim they are happy with the acquisitions and paint the best picture possible.

What the Wolves will never admit is this: Nothing would have been as sweet as getting Batum away from the team we now know is their arch-rival, those pesky Trail Blazers. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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