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Is Nicolas Batum opting out the likeliest way the Clippers retain him?

In his latest free agent profile on The Athletic, John Hollinger details the Clippers using Early Bird rights to bring Nicolas Batum back. Could that be their best case scenario?

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LA Clippers v Minnesota Timberwolves - Play-In Tournament Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Clippers feature a pretty big free agency decision this offseason in the form of veteran forward Nicolas Batum. Since signing with the Clippers just before the 2020-21 season after the Charlotte Hornets used the stretch provision on him, Batum has been a vital cog in the machine.

Last offseason, the Clippers were able to bring Batum back on a non-Bird deal that allowed them to retain their taxpayer Mid-Level Exception ($5.9 million), which they then split on several players, including Justise Winslow whom they later packaged alongside Eric Bledsoe and Keon Johnson to Portland for Robert Covington and Norman Powell.

Batum holds a player option this offseason and has until June 29 to make his decision known. It’s the one roster decision that appears to be out of the Clippers’ control at this point, and it’s a crucial one in determining just how good the team could be next season considering how valuable he has been during his time in Los Angeles.

One such scenario that could actually turn out to benefit the Clippers starts with Batum declining his player option, as The Athletic’s John Hollinger pointed out recently:

With a player option for a paltry $3.3 million, it’s a no-brainer for Batum to opt out of his deal. One likely end game is that he would re-up with the Clippers, who now have Early Bird rights on him for the maximum they can offer (approximately $12 million this year), which would put his salary reasonably close to the above valuation.

Hollinger notes that the Clippers would retain Batum’s Early Bird rights if he were to decline his player option, and that’s a pretty big key in all this since it’s similar to what transpired with Reggie Jackson last offseason in that the Clippers re-signed Jackson using those same Early Bird rights.

Without delving too much into the cap minutia, Early Bird rights are reserved for players who spend two consecutive seasons with one team. It also means that the team can re-sign the player for 175% of his previous salary or 105% of the league’s average salary, whichever is greater.

Because Batum was slotted in at $3.2 million this season, 175% of that salary would be $5.6 million. On the other hand, 105% of the league’s average salary is going to sit between roughly $11 million (according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks) and $12 million (according to John Hollinger) for the first season on a new contract. That would be the greater of the two contract numbers, hence the one Batum would be eligible for.

Regardless if the true number is around $11 million or $12 million, that jump in salary would represent a sizable raise over the $3.3 million player option that Batum presently holds. Declining it would be in his best interest, and it would also benefit the team greatly because it would allow them to lock Batum up for at least two more seasons since a requirement to using Early Bird rights is that contracts must run at least two seasons in length and feature no player or team option on the second year.

Batum, who has averaged 8.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.0 steals and shot 40.2% on 3s during his two seasons with the Clippers, is going to command quite a bit of interest in the free agent market from teams looking to contend for a championship. But with the Clippers also poised to make a run at their first-ever title, getting Batum back onboard appears to be a no-brainer.