According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Clippers forward Nicolas Batum is going to decline his player option in order to become a free agent this summer. It’s an expected move for the 33-year-old veteran, who can get significantly more than the $3.3M salary he opted out of by signing a new deal with the Clippers or soliciting offers from other teams.

Batum has a rather unique financial situation. After never quite living up to a 5-year, $120M deal signed with Charlotte, he found himself out of the Hornets’ rotation in 2019-20 (the fourth year of that contract) and then released before the beginning of the 2020-21 season, despite being owed a bit over $27M that year. That $27M was “stretched,” meaning the Hornets paid Batum $9,043,478 to play for the Clippers each of the last two years, and will pay him the final $9M due on that contract this upcoming season. That subsidization from Charlotte makes it a little easier for Nico to be flexible and take paycuts–which is exactly what happened last summer.
After playing just one year with the Clippers on a minimum-salary deal, Batum hit free agency in 2021, but the team only had what are called his “non-bird rights,” meaning the biggest contract they could offer him was 120% of the minimum salary. Despite playing at a level that would have priced a new deal somewhere between $8M and $12M, Batum took a paycut to return to the Clippers on a one-year deal worth $2.6M with a player option for $3.3M in 2022-23. Now, after a similarly successful second season as a Clipper, the team has Batum’s “early bird rights,” which allow them to offer him a more lucrative contract–up to around $10.9M starting salary. That should easily be enough to keep Nico, whose free agent market would cut off at the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, worth $10,349,000 this summer.

Remember that Batum will still get that final $9M from the Hornets this year as well, which would presumably make maximizing his salary this off-season less of a priority. However, at 33 years old he could look to leverage these two good seasons with the Clippers into what is likely his last shot at a lucrative, multi-year deal. Would LAC put up a 3-year, $34M offer to retain Batum’s services? The team already owes veteran power forward Marcus Morris $33.5M over the next two years and just gave veteran power forward Robert Covington a 2-year, $24M extension, and even the high-spending Steve Ballmer has to have a tipping point on green-lighting luxury tax expenses. Still, in this case, I would expect that Batum will be back on a 2 or 3-year deal. He seems to have very little interest in playing elsewhere and has been one of the team’s most versatile and valuable role players in the last two seasons.

Lucas Hann

Lucas Hann

Lucas has covered the Clippers since 2011, and has been credentialed by the team since 2014. He co-founded 213Hoops with Robert Flom in January 2020.  He is a graduate of Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, CA and St. John's University in Queens, NY.  He earned his MA in Communication and Rhetorical Studies from Syracuse University.

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