Praise Flip, But Don’t Blame Eddie: Looking At Andray Blatche
When I hear about Flip Saunders saying he’s a teacher before a coach, about how he and his assistants (namely Sam Cassell) have been working with the young guys, that he, being an ‘offensive mind’, has developed a mini-playbook for the summer league team and that he’ll be observing from a close distance on-site in Vegas, I think, “Boy, isn’t that refreshing?”
It’s comforting that a new, veteran coach, known to keep a tight bench and favor elders in his rotation, has arrived in D.C. with the mind-set of bringing along the young fellas. Not only does Flip believe that children are our future, but he practices it, knowing the jobs of both him, and the man who hired him, Ernie Grunfeld, depend on how they develop the team from top to bottom.
Mike Prada recently expressed a similar sentiment regarding Saunders in a pre-summer league post on Bullets Forever.
But in patting Flip on the back for his involvement with the youth, no one should be pointing ‘shame on your’ fingers towards former coach Eddie Jordan. Yes, Jordan used different tactics with his young players. And from the outside perspective/opinion of many (not including myself), those tactics were less than ideal.
But the fact is, we’ll never really know the true difference between Jordan’s player development and that of Saunders. An initial thought would be that Jordan was more no-nonsense, treated boys like men, and was less tolerant of mental breakdowns in concentration. Seemingly in contrast, Saunders has come in with encouragement and positive thinking.
And you know, that’s what he’s supposed to do. There isn’t a quicker way to loose a team, especially the young guys, than to begin your tenure with busting balls in a totalitarian manner. Of course, this isn’t to say that when the real season starts, Saunders won’t hold the kids just as accountable as Jordan did.
In the previously linked Bullets Forever post, Prada didn’t go so far as to bash Jordan when he said, “That’s not to say the Eddie Jordan regime didn’t take it seriously, but the Eddie Jordan regime never had a weekend minicamp, featuring player cuts.”
However, there needs to be a slight correction to this statement. Eddie Jordan did, in fact, hold pre-summer league mini-camps. I didn’t comb the web for links to all of his mini-camps, but the official Washington Wizards site has plenty of info from Jordan’s first mini-camp with the franchise in 2003, and this Washington Times link tells of what ended up being Jordan’s final mini-camp in 2008. And there’s no reason to think that there weren’t mini-camps during the four seasons in between.
After all, in terms of Jordan and player development, Gilbert Arenas was able to come into his own under Eddie. Brendan Haywood, despite a significant rough patch, made 180 degree amends with Jordan to the point where he’d be willing to play for him in Philadelphia. Even Nick Young was recently quoted, “With Eddie Jordan, I started to play more minutes. Then with the coaching change, it kind of put me off track a little bit.” And a similar case has come up with JaVale McGee. Of course, all of this may be more of an indictment of Ed Tapscott than an endorsement of Jordan’s player development skills.
But the point of this post isn’t the come to the defense of Eddie Jordan … well, kinda. The point is to move forward with Flip Saunders. The young players MUST take advantage of the clean slate he’s providing. Opportunity is kicking at the door and yearning for the Blatches, McGees, and Youngs of the world to step up.
Out goes Jordan’s “tough love” philosophy, and in comes whatever Flip Saunders is preaching. Personally, I had nothing wrong with Jordan’s tough love style. Some NBA players are pacified and coddled enough as it is. But hey, if a change of direction is what’s needed, then whatever’s clever.
All of this brings us to Mr. Andray Blatche, the focus of a bulk of my frustration over the past couple of years. We are now celebrating the third annual summer of ‘It’s time for ‘Dray to step up’, this also being his 5th consecutive summer league … I think. He may have missed one due to being shot.
The pressure on Blatche to succeed mentally is still full steam ahead. And this year, it’s heightened by two prevailing factors: the dearth of depth down low, and Blatche’s own words, which somewhat, when read in between the lines by me, go towards excusing his past tenure as a Wizard.
“I just feel I belong here now. This is my first time having a real good relationship with a coach in the NBA, that he actually takes out the time and texts me and just checks on me. It gives me a lot of confidence. Eddie [Jordan] was a veteran coach, he was tough on young players, so I didn’t really have a real strong relationship with Eddie.”
Of course, this incited comments on the Sports Bog like:
Imagine that. Positive reinforcement can lead to positive results.
It’s almost criminal to think that Eddie Jordan was just waiting for Blatche to “get it” as opposed to being hands on and doing everything in his power to help him “get it”.
Look, I’m not losing any sleep that Jordan wasn’t around to tuck Blatche in at night … especially when he was getting caught soliciting undercover cop prostitutes or making himself very well known around the DC party scene, even throwing his own ‘End of the Season’ party before the actual end of the season.
Not to say there’s anything wrong with partying and having fun … I like to partake myself (but not in the whores). However, and it could just be my skepticism, Blatche’s ‘Jordan v. Saunders’ comments are very close to him using Jordan’s coaching philosophy as a crutch, an excuse, when he really should be looking in the mirror.
I want to be optimistic about Andray Blatche, I really do. And if this new-found relationship with Flip Saunders is what was needed all along, then great. But until he proves himself with consistency on the court, off-season actions such as changing his jersey number from 32 to 7 because “Obama said it is time for a change,” are just fodder for outlets like the DC Sports Bog.
We’ve heard talk from Blatche before, and similarly to Jamison, I’m going to once again address this year’s talk with a “Yea, riiiight … we’ll see,” until Andray shows us otherwise. But in the spirit of optimism, I’ll hope for the best … with a reasonable doubt of course.