His NBA career was on the brink, leaving Nicolas Batum unsure of his future and uncertain if he even had anything left to give to a team.
Yet he proved so many wrong — the naysayers and himself when he had insecurities about his place in the league.
He developed a bond with his teammates, the Clippers’ organization and fans, and that will play a role in his decision when Batum becomes a free agent this summer.
“Of course,” Batum said during his exit interview with the media Thursday. “It wasn’t the case the last two years for me so that was pretty cool to have some support like that. I mean, that was fair, I deserved it [in Charlotte] the last two years. But the ‘Batum Battalion,’ I wasn’t expecting that. That was pretty cool. And the fans in general, they welcomed me with open arms.
“I know they got some doubts about me when I got here. But the way then they greeted me, the way they greet me, welcome me and my family. I mean, that was great and I can’t thank them enough because that was special for me, and like I said earlier, I had no idea it could end up that way as a basketball player. …”
The Clippers signed Batum to a one-year, $2.564-million deal after he was waived by Charlotte.
He then played himself into a prominent role with the Clippers, the do-it-all forward capable of playing small-ball center, defending all five positions and running the offense when needed.
In 67 regular-season games, 38 starts, Batum averaged 8.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 27.4 minutes per game. He shot 46.2% from the field and 40.4% from three-point range.
In 19 playoff games, 10 starts, he averaged 8.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 29.2 minutes. He shot 48.6% from the field, 38.9% from three.
Based on his performance, Batum was asked if he surprised himself.
“A little bit, yes,” Batum said. “I mean, yeah, kind of because when you start like listening to all the noise outside and then you say, ‘Maybe I am done for sure,’ and you come back and you are playing that way and the team is competing for something, I was kind of surprised, like, ‘Oh, maybe I’m not that bad actually. I’m not done.’ So, I was kind of surprised sometime and maybe people were wrong about me and I was wrong about myself maybe.”
Batum, 32, admitted that after getting released by Charlotte that “I was in a bad place mentally.”
The Clippers allowed Batum to work on his psyche, and the 12-year veteran is forever thankful for that.
“Now look where I am right now, just incredible. It’s amazing to what happened to me this year,” he said. “I can’t thank enough the Clippers’ organization for giving me a chance to be a basketball player again. I wasn’t sure what I could do this year, and they give me a chance to be a player again. It’s a blessing for me.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.