Portland and Minnesota have representatives in Las Vegas this week, carrying on a mini-feud that started with one team unwittingly a part of it, sucked in by people now long gone. Portland’s Neil Olshey and Minnesota’s David Kahn are GMs spending their time in Las Vegas trying not to look at one another when they’re not running around the city trying to deliver offer sheets. It’s a bizarre feud that has culminated (I think) with one of the more interesting free agency stories of this summer, Nicolas Batum, through a winding series of missteps by players, front-office types and even co-workers of those involved. For a feud dealing with teams that are at best mid-level squads in the Western Conference, it has surprisingly stuck. Here’s how it got this way.
1. BRING IN AN UNWITTING CO-CONSPIRATOR
Back in 2009, Portland’s front-office cap wizard Tom Penn wanted a raise, so he interviewed for Minnesota’s GM job. Then-Portland GM Kevin Pritchard backed his candidacy, and petitioned owner Paul Allen to keep him with a raise. He was promoted to VP of basketball operations. And then it came out that Allen had been played by the agent of both Penn and Pritchard for a raise because he never wanted the Minny job. Both parties had been duped — Minnesota hired Kahn instead — but Penn got dumped 10 months later once Allen found out. Pritchard got fired three months later.
2. SAY THE OTHER TEAM SCREWED YOU
Martell Webster was never the answer in Portland that the Trail Blazers wanted him to be. When Webster was traded to Minnesota in 2010, he wasn’t as healthy as the Timberwolves thought he’d be, either. Ever since that trade, the T-Wolves had waited, tapping their foot, for Portland to give them compensation for the trade because they claim Portland knew about the injury. Portland isn’t generally where players stay healthy, but the team claims itself it didn’t know about it. Kahn’s still waiting on this one, a year and a half later.
3. SIGN THE OTHER TEAM’S FORMER AND CURRENT PLAYERS
Because Portland used its amnesty clause on Brandon Roy last December, it didn’t have his rights until 2014. So when he said he wanted to play again, the Timberwolves found room for him (and Portland still has to pay him the $69 million left on his deal). Then they got Batum on an offer sheet for four years and $45 million. As Sports Illustrated‘s Zach Lowe correctly notes, that’s more than Josh Smith or Rajon Rondo earned last year. It’s a way of luring a prized free agency target and also sticking it to the other team (see Rockets’ deal with Jeremy Lin).
4. TURN DOWN REASONABLE OFFER TO STAY PETULANT
For Batum, Minnesota was reportedly willing to offer Portland Derrick Williams and three first-round picks. Portland turned it down. No one this side of Paul Allen‘s basketball IQ knows why. In effect, the Trail Blazers said, we don’t want your stain on our team, and have stayed stubborn to an all-or-nothing approach. Or whatever their explanation, it’s mostly unintelligble.
5. THROW IN MUD-SLINGING FROM FORMER CO-WORKERS
Don Robinson covered the championship 1977 Portland team for Portland’s The Oregonian newspaper, where he went on to be a longtime golf writer. On the radio show of current Oregonian columnist John Canzano last week, he interrupted the narrative around his new golf book to take shots at Kahn, a former Oregonian reporter himself. Actually, then he and Canzano throw Kahn under the bus.
I want to congratulate you on your evaluation on David Kahn. You’ve got him figured really perfectly. I worked with him when he was down there and stuff and he was full of himself, he was strictly not a team player at the paper, embellished things and he tells the NBA, tells everyody he was a former sports columnist at The Oregonian. Well he was a sports writer, he wrote an occasional column but he was never the lead columnist and he left the paper on on less than cordial terms. OK lets get to the golf.
He’s kind of a buffoon is what he is. … He struggled with his own importance, let’s put it that way.
Has there ever been a more pointless spat between teams? None of these moves will make or break either squad in the short term (That’s not to say turning down that much for Batum wasn’t incredibly dumb). The Blazers have until tonight to match Batum’s offer. What could happen next?
Should Portland match the offer for Batum?
Follow Andrew on Twitter at @AndrewGreif.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.