By Sam Perley
The NBA offseason is not only a time for a player to make improvements to his game, but also a much-needed window of rest and relaxation. For international players like the Charlotte Hornets’ French-born shooting guard, Nicolas Batum, the off months have usually provided limited free time because of National Team obligations.
This past spring, Batum made the difficult choice to not suit up for France in international play for the first time in 14 years (counting his time with the Junior National Team). Although it’s a decision that initially haunted him at the time, it was one he felt like he needed to make.
“I’m going to dedicate my summer to this franchise,” said Batum at the time. “I won’t play this summer for the French [National] Team. I’m going to get back on the court and really work on myself to be back next year and [help this] team get back to a playoff spot. The biggest thing when I [made] my decision is I’m going to spend time with my family and my son every day.”
Batum dealt with some backlash from the French faithful, a fanbase that has grown accustomed to seeing consistent, sustained success on the international basketball stage.
“Nobody in France is happy about [my decision]. I can understand that. I can understand that because if you miss the National Team, you look like a traitor sometimes. So, that’s tough because I gave so much to [the French team] and some people understand my decision and some of them don’t. That’s life. I can’t really pay attention to it if it hurts a little bit.”
Despite posting career highs in scoring (15.1 points), assists (5.9) and total made free throws (243) last season, Batum indicated his 2016-17 campaign was largely underwhelming by his own personal standards. Even though it was tough, this summer was one of those times when he needed to be a bit selfish.
France ended up finishing a disappointing 12th at the European Championships, its worst showing since 1975 when it failed to qualify for the tournament. The squad was also without a number of other regulars including Utah’s Rudy Gobert (rest) and San Antonio’s Tony Parker (recently retired from international competition).
“It was kind of weird and sometimes I was bored,” said a reflective Batum on Hornets Media Day. “Not playing basketball, I missed it. That’s why I was really happy to be back and play basketball again because it’s been 14 years [since I sat out from the National Team]. I missed it and I was kind of sad the way it ended up for the French National Team. They lost too early in the tournament and I received a lot of hate back in France.”
Resentment from fans aside, Batum even had to deal with fictitious rumors from the French media about his true intentions this summer. One particular journalist even falsely accused Batum of having a falling out with the National Team coach and that he refused to meet with him following the 2016 Summer Olympics. It seemed like many people were simply unwilling to accept the fact Batum just needed a break and wanted to spend more time with his family.
“People weren’t happy about me taking a step [back] and taking care of my family. My family needed me to be there and [I got to] do what I got to do and spend time with my son and my wife. That was kind of tough. That was the dark side of my decision, but the bright side is I think I needed that and for this season, I think I should be okay. This is going to be a huge season for [the Charlotte Hornets].”
He added, “[Normally in August], I would have had like two or three days at home and the rest would have been at [the French National Team’s] training camp. I was at home taking care of my son and my wife, putting him to bed and picking him up when he woke up. Every morning, I was like ‘Yeah, I have no regrets.’”
Hornets Head Coach Steve Clifford spoke glowingly of Batum’s offseason preparations for the upcoming season during Media Day as well.
“He’s in the best shape by far in the three years that he’s been here. I think he’s in a great place mentally. He’s stronger. He’s fit. He came back and has been here the last two weeks and done all the workouts. I just think he’s in a great place mentally and physically. I couldn’t be more pleased with him.”
“Playing for your National Team is probably one of the biggest honors you can [receive] as an athlete no matter what sport you’re in,” said teammate Marvin Williams. “It just shows how much he cares about us and the Charlotte Hornets. He wanted to get better and really focus on his game and he’s done that this summer and looks really good right now in camp.
Williams added, “He looks physically great. Mentally, I can definitely tell he’s excited to be back. Guys really missed him this summer [while he was home in France]. It feels like he missed us, too. He looks healthy, he looks strong and he’s going to be huge for us this year.”
Heading into his 10th NBA season, Batum has certainly earned his fair share of time off in the summer, especially as a recent first-time father. Physically refreshed and mentally rejuvenated, the 28-year-old Frenchman has officially bid ‘au revoir’ to last season and has the 2017-18 campaign firmly in his sights.