Posted Sep 13, 2012 9:40 AM
Red flags were raised in recent days when Andray Blatche's signing with the Brooklyn Nets was delayed, in the words of his agent Andy Miller, by "other business that needs to be addressed." Really, though, there was no cause to be alarmed; Blatche's signing was said to be imminent -- and happened Wednesday evening. Besides, the guy has lived his basketball life under more red flags than the Muscovites.
Blatche's remarkable, maddening history of frustration, false starts, letdowns and immaturity in seven seasons with the Washington Wizards trails him to Brooklyn like a sewage truck with a leaky tank. From taking a bullet in an alleged car-jacking a few months after he was drafted to being shut down for the final 22 games last season because he was out of shape -- with all sorts of on-court and late-night antics in between -- Blatche wound up his stay at the Verizon Center as a player folks loved to boo. (Even then, he underachieved: Several months ago, readers of Washingtonian magazine voted Blatche "Also Unpopular" runner-up status, reserving the top spot of "Worst Local Athlete" for the NHL Capitals' Alex Ovechkin.)
Fans at the Barclays Center won't have nearly as much fun that way with the 26-year-old Blatche. If he generates anything close to that level of unpopularity in Brooklyn, he'll be gone sooner rather than later -- that's the understanding all around with the one-year, non-guaranteed contract he's expected to sign for the NBA veteran's minimum salary of $1.1 million.
Low-risk, high-reward, they're calling it around Netsland. It can pay off only if Blatche sees it as high-risk, priceless-reward -- the salvation of his basketball career.
"You didn't have to be around Andray long to get the feeling that, until he reached rock bottom, he might never have an opportunity to move forward," said an NBA insider familiar with Blatche's career and self-imposed career obstacles. "I don't know if he's still going to find the answer. But he definitely has reached rock bottom."
Blatche still is due $23 million from the Wizards, who swallowed hard and used the amnesty provision of the collective bargaining agreement to clear him from their salary-cap calculations. It was a shaky gamble (hoping perhaps that some team would sign Blatche to a bigger deal to offset more of his salary), an admission of front-office bungling of the highest order. And it was a necessary one as the Wizards finally got serious.
Blatche lasted longer in Washington than a couple of his Wizards cohorts, JaVale McGee and Nick Young, only because he made himself untradeable last season. What started badly -- Blatche appointing himself team captain in a little pregame talk to the Verizon Center crowd before the home opener, then complaining by halftime about his lack of touches in the paint -- got worse as 2011-12 dragged on.
The 6-foot-11 forward, who always had a "soft" body by NBA standards, prepared for the lockout season by not preparing at all. Figuring the labor dispute would wipe out the entire schedule, he hung out with friends, reportedly visited his mom in South Carolina, took a trip to Jamaica and otherwise looked as if he'd trained under 1999 lockout legends Vin Baker and Shawn Kemp. Blatche's weight ballooned to more than 280 pounds dealing with shoulder and calf injuries.
After huddling with Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld, it was decided that Blatche would not play because he was not in game shape. Blatche actually had a stats line in March that read "NWT-Conditioning." Just like his "This is your captain speaking" microphone moment, it came against the Nets, who probably consider it part of their due diligence now.
So Blatche played 26 games out of Washington's 66 last season. He shot 38 percent and averaged 8.5 points and 5.8 rebounds. The Wizards went 7-19 when he played, 10-12 in the 22 games he sat out. And while his absence kept him out of the fans' sight for the final month or so, he managed to get booed to the bitter end -- they got him one last time when he came out in street clothes for a jersey-giveaway ceremony after the season finale.
How did Blatche feel about his disastrous 2011-12 season? He 'fessed up to the Washington Post afterward: "Just not being mentally strong this season. Injuries and just getting down on myself. Letting the boos get myself down, messing with my head and not being able to go out and work as hard as I could...
"How I played this year, it was terrible. The organization had to do something about it, I wasn't playing like the player I'm supposed to be. I told them I couldn't agree with you more."
Blatche was talking about getting shut down, mind you, not the amnesty release that came in mid-July. Even he seemed surprised, judging by his pre- and post-cut Tweets, that he had run out of chances in Washington. But after burning through three coaches -- Eddie Jordan, Ed Tapscott and Flip Saunders -- he wasn't able to outlast a fourth.
With the Nets, Blatche will be surrounded by the likes of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans. If the Nets are smart, they'll make some mentoring mandatory. A million dollars still is a million dollars, and a focused, in-shape Blatche might be able to help.
If they're not smart, they'll excuse away all his Washington antics and failures, laugh for a while at "Dray being Dray" and then watch him alibi his way straight out of Brooklyn.
Blatche spent part of the summer working with John Lucas, the former No. 1 pick, coach and reformed addict who is the patron saint of NBA lost causes. "He's shown the commitment to get in much better shape and the humility that comes with being amnestied," Lucas told the Syracuse Post-Standard in August for a feature in Blatche's hometown paper. "Some team will give him a chance. But nobody will take your word for it. You have to prove yourself."
There are those who will pull for Blatche because he still has time, still has a chance, even from rock bottom. Some pull for all the guys who enter 2012-13 seeking redemption of one sort or another, from Charlie Villanueva to Michael Beasley to Kwame Brown.
"Entitlements" is a dirty word around politics these days. But it's alive in sports, luring victims and spoiling careers, some of which never get the rock-bottom fresh start that Andray Blatche has before him.
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