FAQ: The Amnesty of Andray Blatche
After seven seasons, 7-Day ‘Dray is no longer a Washington Wizard, cast away by means of the amnesty provision on July 17. Some are still celebrating, some are still contemplating… the TAI crew of Adam McGinnis, Sean Fagan, Dan Diamond, Rashad Mobley, and Kyle Weidie take you through an FAQ on the official departure of Andray Blatche.
Q: When did Blatche’s time with the Wizards go south? And Why?
A: Adam McGinnis (@AdamMcGinnis)
When a maligned sports figure spends seven tumultuous years in one city, there are bound to be many reference points illustrating where things went awry. Andray Blatche barely survived a carjacking attempt before his first training camp in 2005 — he was shot — so maybe there was one bad omen surrounding him in D.C. from the jump.
The candidates for that moment when Blatche’s time went downhill include:
- famously refusing to go back into a game on the same day the Wizards were promoting him for NBA’s most improved player;
- questioning the value of his contract, in 2010 despite still having two years remaining on his second NBA deal;
- being busted for solicitation of a prostitute (who turned out to a police officer);
- suspended for fighting a teammate at a nightclub;
- foolishly chasing a triple-double in garbage time;
- declaring a willingness to “die” for basketball at 2011 media day,
- lashing out at critics on sports talk radio;
- and, in last season’s opener, labeling himself the team’s captain, then complaining about his role in the offense immediately after the game (a 90-84 loss to the Nets).
The true demise of Blatche as a Wizard came following the 2009-10 season. With Gilbert Arenas suspended and veterans Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson, and Brendan Haywood jettisoned before the trade deadline, Blatche finally received the opportunity of starter minutes and regular touches. While the team struggled to win games with a make-shift roster, Blatche excelled individually and posted outstanding stats on a consistent basis. In the season’s final 32 games, he averaged 22.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and put up twelve double-doubles. The “potential” label had finally been lifted and Blatche seemed to be a legitimate part of the franchise’s future.
However, the high of his individual success evaporated when he broke his foot playing pick up at Barry Farm during a June workout at the Verizon Center. He lost a whole summer of basketball activity in rehabbing his injured wheel, and Blatche came into the 2010 fall training camp out of shape. His excellent outside shooting touch was lost, and he lumbered around the court, even admitting to a bad diet of late-night junk food. The Blatche seen in the spring of 2010 proved to be an outlier. That player never returned, and his career in D.C. spiraled downward into a disastrous 2011-12 season.
There will always be a what-ifs — what if he never broke his foot was able to keep the positive momentum going? Ultimately, however, Blatche should have battled through adversity; he’s largely responsible for his failures.
Blatche is no different than average Americans who dream and talk big, yet refuse to take the necessary steps to fulfill those lofty aspirations. Some join a health club to get ripped, but find daily excuses to skip out on the gym. Many want to travel, but never plan any trips. Others desire to be in a relationship, but won’t go on dates. Writers express goals of penning a novel, but never follow through with the literary steps. I wish to be a better cook, but end up making the same few stale dishes over and over. (Pasta and rice … how EXCITING!)
This does not make Blatche a bad guy, per se, but only a human being with normal flaws and faults. Blatche’s well-intentioned desire to be “the man” in professional basketball never matched up to the sustained effort required. He is just isn’t wired in that way, and maybe he never will be.
Q: It’s been easy, and trendy, to slam Andray Blatche and pick apart his numerous flaws. But if you had to pick one or two memorable (good memorable) moments of his on the court, what would you pick?
A: Sean Fagan (@McCarrick)
Psychologists have proven how human beings remember negative experiences at a much more frequent rate than they do positives ones. That is because traumas can have long lasting psychological effects on the human psyche, while positive experiences tend to be more ephemeral in nature. This, in short, can go a long way toward explaining Andray Blatche and his tenure with the Washington Wizards.
To be a fully realized Grade A Trauma, you need to have a good experience rendered into a negative one. After all, the negativity and vitriol that has been poured on Andray Blatche over the last few years was unique in its luster. One never saw the same type of pure bile directed at Jarvis Hayes, Oleksiy Pecherov or any of the other Wizards busts who were drafted higher than Andray Blatche, with the exception of Kwame Brown. No one is going out our their way to pillory Vladimir Veermenko for not having a skillset that translates to the NBA, yet all these players were taken before Blatche in the NBA draft. The reason for this is because Blatche, despite all his faults, provided Wizards fans with many moments of delight during his tenure on the team. As a fanbase, we set the bar so high for him that it became impossible for Blatche to succeed unless he became a Kevin Garnett-Lite. But what were these moments and why did we have such high expectations? I can point to a couple that gave Wizards fans unreasonable expectations.
The 2007-08 Season
It is unfair to point to an entire season as a moment, but this is when the Blatche bandwagon really got off the ground and got running. Blatche was still in his athletic phase at this point and hadn’t developed the old man playground game for which he would come to be known. He totaled 114 blocks on the season along with 425 rebounds, the first of which remains his career-high while the other was the third-highest total of his career. This despite the fact that Blatche started 15 games the entire season. Fans were slavering over finally moving away from the finesse style of Antawn Jamison and giving the starting power forward position to what resembled a young KG. The wheels, of course, fell off the bus in the playoffs as Blatche completely disappeared, despite joining his comrade in arms DeShawn Stevenson in shaving their heads into mohawks. This remains the highpoint of the “Blatche is great” phenomena” with an obvious villain (Jamison) standing in the way of young players who might have otherwise made the leap.
Speaking of which…
Following the deep-sixing of two of the Big Three and the banishment of Gilbert Arenas, Blatche finally had his chance to shine. The old villain, Jamison, was finally out of the way, for the second half of what was a truly horrible season. The day that Jamison was traded, Blatche went for 26 and 13 in a win over Minnesota. He would continue his torrid race to the finish by recording eleven more double-doubles, as he and James Singleton provided an effective and exciting frontcourt that rebounded hard and scored efficiently. Of course, there were blips on the radar as Blatche at one point refused to come into the game under Flip Saunders and the various after game activities he would host, but the trajectory was firmly pointed in the upward direction.
Then Andray Blatche broke his foot and everything went to hell.
What we remember now, Wizards fans, is the Andray Blatche of the last two seasons, the player with zero lift who was finally sent away from the team with the tagline NWT-Conditioning. But we have also managed to convince ourselves that this is what Andray Blatche always was, which could not be farther from the truth. At one point Andray Blatche was seen as the future due to dazzling play, and it only because he inflicted a trauma upon those who were touting his abilities so highly that we choose to not remember the player he was at the peak of his abilities, but rather the player who became the scapegoat for the last two miserable seasons.
Q: Who is more at fault the day Blatche was amnestied? Ernie Grunfeld and Ted Leonsis for agreeing to sign Blatche to a big contract, despite his behavior leading up to that? Or Blatche for not stepping up and being a leader and/or an elite player?
A: Dan Diamond (@ddiamond)
In the spring of 2010, Blatche was doing a passable Garnett impression — a poor man’s KG, but not so ridiculous as it might seem now — putting up 22 points per game, eight rebounds, and four assists after the All-Star break. Sure, the Wiz couldn’t win that year, but Blatche was only getting his first consistent starting gig; he seemed like the solution, not the problem. Like Bullets Forever’s Mike Prada, I was thrilled when the Wizards extended his contract that fall at a reasonable rate. Blatche was playing like a guy worth $9 million per year and, at age 23, still had room to grow.
So this one’s totally on ‘Dray — a player who both exceeded his second-round expectations and still fell far short of his potential in D.C. — and not the front office. Who knew that Blatche would get distracted by clubs, by bad training habits, even as his career should’ve been taking off? But on second thought, maybe the triple-double-that-wasn’t should’ve been a clue.
Q: Where are three logical destinations for Andray Blatche? Is he a starter or a bench player?
A: Rashad Mobley (@Rashad20)
Certainly the Wizards/Bullets franchise had prematurely — and in some case, justifiably — given up on its fair share of young players. Chris Webber was prone to both injuries and trouble, Rasheed Wallace was immature, and Richard Hamilton dared to stand up to Michael Jordan. The result: all three were shipped out of town. So when JaVale McGee put up double-doubles for the Nuggets against the Lakers in the playoffs and Nick Young proved to be instrumental in the Clippers 26-point comeback in Game 1 of the 2012 playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, Wizards fans had to be wondering if they were prematurely traded (Ted Leonsis would say no.)
Andray Blatche doesn’t quite fit into that category. Unlike most of the former Wizards players listed above who were given anywhere between one and five years to prove their worth, Blatche had seven full seasons to prove he belonged in Washington. Ultimately, arrests, uninspired play, injuries, spats with coaches, and a NWT-Conditioning seemed to impede his progress. But the other reality is that Blatche will be 26 when the 2012-13 season starts. That youth combined with his undeniable talent means that someone one (even though he cleared waivers last week) will take a chance on him as a free agent. Below are three teams that should give him a look. For the purposes of this article, the Miami Heat are not eligible. It isn’t that the rumors cannot be true, because they absolutely could be, but with LeBron, Wade and Bosh already on that team, who doesn’t fit on that team?
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder have big men who can defend (Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and the newly acquired Hasheem Thabeet), big men who can do the dirty work (Nick Collison), and an athlete who they took a risk in drafting this summer, Perry Jones. What the Thunder do not have, particularly in their second unit, is a big man who can score; Blatche could fill that void. If the defense can’t guard the 3-point shots OKC takes, it could be because Blatche is on the block (or close to it) scoring 10-15 points a game, and that would only add another another dimension to a young squad. And if Blatche cannot get motivated to play on a team that just made the NBA finals, then it would just further cement Washington’s decision to part ways.
Whether it is via free agency or a trade, Dwight Howard will eventually be leaving the Orlando Magic. In return, the Magic could get nothing, they could get Bynum, they could get Anderson Varejao, but it is fair to say they won’t get that a player who can replace Howard. If the head coach (rumored to be Jacque Vaughn) could convince Blatche of his importance to the team, and request 15-20 points and 6-8 rebounds a game (averaging a double-double would be too much to ask, and Glen “Big Baby” Davis could pick up the slack in the department) … well, that type of ego boost could jumpstart Blatche’s career. The downside? Dwight Howard’s immaturity is easier to stomach because he produces on the court; if Blatche shows that side, the Magic won’t be nearly as forgiving. New GM Rob Hennigan could also be criticized for starting off his regime with a Howard trade and a Blatche signing — not exactly the kind of move that inspires ticket sales or brings to mind the celebrated Oklahoma City model.
Given what happened with Lamar Odom, Mark Cuban may be reluctant to sign another potential head case in Blatche. But the cold reality is the Mavericks will struggle to score this season. Elton Brand is a threat to get hurt at any moment, as is newly signed center, Chris Kaman. OJ Mayo is more of a defensive specialist, and Shawn Marion, Roddy Beaubois and Vince Carter are inconsistent, and may struggle without Jason Kidd running the show. Blatche won’t play much defense, and he’ll grab fewer rebounds than the ancient Elton Brand. But with his ability to score in bunches in a variety of different ways, he can come off the bench (with an outside chance to start) and take the scoring load off of Dirk and Darren Collison, whom the Mavericks traded for this offseason.
Q: Who will go down as the more infamous Wizard, Blatche or Kwame Brown?
A: Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It)
The story of Kwame Brown is complicated because it was so systematic. Like Andray Blatche, Kwame was drafted out of high school without a clue. The expectations, however, surrounding him going first overall in the 2001 NBA draft — the first high-schooler to be plucked at the No. 1 spot — are systematic. Lottery picks are busts, second rounders are not.
What came with where he was taken was beyond Kwame’s control. Why he was taken first was out of his control. A dazzling workout from the small-handed Georgia native against fellow high-schooler Tyson Chandler was all Michael Jordan needed to make his decision, right? The way Brown was cultivated (to his detriment) by Michael Jordan and his coach, Doug Collins, was systematic. And well, a good case can be made that Kwame never had it in him. The main difference between him and Andray Blatche is draft position.
From the 2004 book, “When Nothing Else Matters: Michael Jordan’s Last Comeback,” by Michael Leahy:
(Kwame) Brown’s protege days were over from that day Jordan called him “f-ggot.” Then, early one afternoon at a practice in Houston, it all became too much for the kid — the doubts, the ridicule, the poundings. He had been working out with Popeye Jones, Christian Laettner and Jahidi White, all veterans who seemed to genuinely care about him, though frustrated that he hadn’t progressed more rapidly, and bothered that he hadn’t grasped their work ethic. They took turns that day knocking him around in drills and one-on-one games.
Popeye Jones realized that Brown was taking a beating. In a three-on-three game with other big men, Jones made a point of matching up against Brown, telling him, “It’s time to grow up.”
Jones roughed up the rookie. Other Wizards screamed at Brown, questioning his commitment and guts.
A disgusted (Doug) Collins told him to sit down.
Finally, Brown broke. As he sobbed, (Michael) Jordan tried to comfort him, but by then, with the season less than four weeks old, Brown’s rookie year was in tatters.
Jordan stopped talking about the brilliant future ahead for Brown.
“Michael [had] shunned him for a while,” a Wizards official said. “Kwame went from having the biggest guy on his side to having nobody. It was a long freeze. Michael helped him later when Kwame broke down and cried. But things were done by then.”
Like Brown, Blatche was weak (albeit just a kid). Unlike Brown, Blatche was coddled for most of his career. For this fact, Blatche will go down as the more infamous Washington Wizard. Yes, he is more tragic than Kwame.
Sure, as a 49th pick, Blatche arrived with much more tempered expectations. But also, high expectations tend materialize with flashes of talent over Blatche’s seven seasons and 409 games with Washington, as opposed to Brown’s four seasons and 253 games as a Wizard. Drafting Brown first overall was mistake, but one worth belittling — in hindsight, the 2001 draft wasn’t all that special to begin with. Taking Blatche in the second round of the 2005 draft was not a mistake.
The difference is that Blatche squandered more chances in Washington than Kwame ever got, and Brown still turned himself into a serviceable defending big man in the NBA, one who was recently signed to be the starting center — for Doug Collins no less — in Philadelphia.
Will Blatche ever be a serviceable NBA anything? That remains to be seen. Just know that almost a month after Ernie Grunfeld drafted Blatche in June 2005, he traded Brown to the Los Angeles Lakers for Caron Butler. So all and all, fans of the Wizards have been “treated” to two of the franchise’s most infamously timeless characters in the span of just over a decade.
The amnestying of Andray Blatche, a $23 million mulligan, will go down in history as one of the most significant steps toward exorcising the demons of a truly cursed NBA team. Good riddance and good luck.