Could Shane Battier be headed to Oklahoma City?
If Kevin Durant had anything to say about it, the defensive ace would soon join the Thunder for this season.
Durant, using the social media site Twitter, on Sunday reached out to Battier, the former All-American and Naismith College Player of the Year at Duke who is now an unrestricted free agent.
“Hey @ShaneBattier, just wanted to see how you were doing and what size jersey you wear and also do u still want no. 31?” Durant wrote.
Battier, 33, is entering his 11th NBA season. He ended last season with Memphis, his second stint with the Grizzlies after four-plus seasons as a member of the Houston Rockets. Battier was last seen tag-teaming with former Oklahoma State guard Tony Allen to supply stellar defense on Durant, the league's two-time scoring champion, in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.
Battier holds career averages of 9.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks. But his impact is widely believed to extend far beyond the stat sheet. A 2009 New York Times Magazine article labeled Battier “The No-Stats All-Star” and examined how his undervalued skill set and undying selflessness quietly became the backbone of many of his teams. In his 10 seasons, Battier's teams have had eight winning season and qualified for the playoffs seven times.
Those same qualities have helped Battier become one of the league's most respected players among coaches, general managers and a segment of players.
Four days before Durant's bid, Thunder forward Nick Collison also tried his hand at recruiting Battier to Oklahoma City. Collison, a University of Kansas alum, delivered his Twitter message to Battier just before the Blue Devils faced the Jayhawks in the finals of this year's Maui Invitational Tournament. When Battier asked Collison about placing a wager on the game Collison replied, “If we win u sign with okc when lockout ends.”
Battier earned $7.35 million last season while playing on the final year of a six-year, $36.8 million deal. Though Battier figures to soon be in high demand when the free agency period begins, he could receive considerably less on his next contract given his age and the changing collective bargaining system that has been designed to control spending.
While Battier could add top-notch defense, additional depth and supreme professionalism to the Thunder, his addition isn't likely given the franchise's current roster and future financial obligations. The Thunder will be at the maximum allowable 15 players when 24th overall draft pick Reggie Jackson signs his standard rookie scale contract and restricted free agent sharpshooter Daequan Cook re-signs as expected.
Oklahoma City also needs to show financial restraint now in order to be able to ink Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka to long-term deals. Westbrook is eligible for an extension when the lockout is lifted, though a deal wouldn't kick in until the 2012-13 season, while Harden and Ibaka are eligible for extensions next summer.
The Thunder, meanwhile, already has a defensive stopper in Thabo Sefolosha under a budget-friendly contract that will pay him a relatively cheap $10.8 million over the next three seasons. Battier, who has hit 38.5 percent of his attempts from beyond the 3-point arc, is a much better perimeter shooter than Sefolosha, a career 30.4 percent shooter. But Sefolosha is six years younger and still could grow into a more dominant defender and more accurate shooter.
There is no doubt, however, that Battier could be a nice fit with the Thunder, a franchise that is creeping closer to a championship and potentially could entice Battier to sacrifice money and playing time to play for a winner.
“I have no idea where I can end up,” Battier was quoted as saying last week in a Q&A with USA Today. “It's going to be chaos trying to go through the free agency period, and I'll have to make a life decision (quickly).
“Memphis may be the best place to return if teams are able to maintain (Larry) Bird rights. I'm hoping to get a three-, four-year deal. For what I can do, I can do for that period of time. I want to be in a happy place. I want to go to work and enjoy it. When you go to work and you have a chance to win every night, your job is way better. That's for any profession, but you want to have a role and be able to contribute to winning.”