CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Nicolas Batum said he isn’t planning to alter how he plays the game after signing a five-year, $120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets.
And that’s just fine with coach Steve Clifford.
Clifford said Batum doesn’t need to put additional pressure on himself to score just because he’s now the highest-paid player in Hornets history. He told him to play how he plays.
“You don’t change the nature of how you play. I think guys get messed up with that,” Clifford said. “… I don’t think you try to reinvent yourself because the money changed. We gave him the money because he played so well. In my opinion he was an All-Star-caliber player last season when healthy.”
Batum was acquired in a trade with Portland before last season and turned out to be a gem for Charlotte, which won 48 games and tied for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Batum averaged a career-high 14.9 points and 5.6 assists while becoming one of the team’s top three go-to options.
Batum said he’s learned from experience that it’s not worth putting pressure on himself just because he signed a big contract.
He did in that 2012 after inking a four-year, $46 million deal to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers. While he still played well, he said it was pointless.
“I was a young guy at the time and I didn’t know what to expect,” Batum said. “Now I know. I know what I have to go through right now. I know what the views of the media and the public will be. I know that, and I’m good with it.”
For Batum, pressure no longer enters the equation because the Hornets trust him and believe in him.
“It’s more relief than pressure,” Batum said.
The Hornets made re-signing him their No. 1 priority, offering the Frenchman a huge deal about an hour into the free-agency signing period. Batum also received several offers from other teams shortly after the deadline, which he called flattering.
The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Batum enters the season as Charlotte’s best all-around player and a favorite among teammates.
“Guys are so much more comfortable when he’s out there on the floor because he makes it so much easier at both ends,” forward Marvin Williams said.
Williams said there’s a naturalness to Batum’s game, and he’s incredibly unselfish — he’s always looking for the better shot option.
“He likes to make the assist, and he likes to get everyone involved,” Williams said. “I think that is why so many people like playing with him. It’s why I love playing with him.”
And why Clifford views him as irreplaceable.
When Batum went down in the second half of last season with an ankle injury, the Hornets struggled to find their rhythm.
“He’s not a numbers guy to me,” Clifford said. “People can say, ‘Well, he’s making this or he’s making that (much money),’ but if he plays at the level he played at last year when he was healthy, we have a chance to be a really good team.”
The Hornets continue to work on 5-on-5 scrimmages extensively during practice as Clifford gets a feel for his team.
But there were several key players missing on Thursday.
Point guard Kemba Walker (knee) and center Cody Zeller (knee) remained out of practice while rehabbing from injuries. Guard Jeremy Lamb did not practice after stepping on a basketball and twisting his ankle, while Brian Roberts was held out after injuring his hamstring when he slipped on some water on the court. Clifford said he hopes to have Lamb and Roberts back in a few days.