For the first time in his career, Andray Blatche will play a game at Verizon Center wearing a uniform other than one belonging to the Washington Wizards. Blatche was released by the team in July using the amnesty provision, with the Wizards essentially paying him $23 million to go away.
Blatche found a new home with the Brooklyn Nets, and so far is having a pretty good season in a supporting role. He’s averaging 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds in 20.4 minutes per game.
He recently made headlines after taking a few shots at his former team during an especially ugly stretch for the Wizards. In November, Blatche said to reporters in the locker room after a Nets win: “Anybody seen how the Wizards are doing?” He followed it up the next day with this post on Twitter: “Feels good to be part of a winning organization.”
The Nets (17-15) are smoking the Wizards (4-26) in terms of record. The Nets are coming off of a 110-93 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night. But they’re going through a little turmoil themselves.
Last week, they fired coach Avery Johnson and replaced him with assistant coach P.J. Carlesimo. Blatche often spoke fondly of his former coach, and seemed to thrive under the tough tutelage of Johnson.
“It’s definitely tough to see Avery go,” Blatche said in an interview with Hoops World just after Johnson’s dismissal by general manager Billy King. “He’s the one who gave me a chance. Avery was there to give me a chance and I just had to prove myself.”
Blatche has much kinder words for Johnson than he did anybody in the Wizards organization. During an extensive radio interview in November, Blatche fired back at the team he felt didn’t support him while he was here.
“If my brother, my mom or my uncle was hurt or needed help, I would give them my last to make sure they’re better, or I would have their back,” he said on 106.7 FM. “I can’t remember not once did anybody say, ‘Give him a break or let’s try to pick him up or anything.’”
As the fans frustrations with the team grew last season, Blatche became the poster child for those frustrations. They began booing him unmercifully, sometimes before he could even take the court.
“They were basically like just saying, ‘OK, when the booing started, well OK, let’s use that as an excuse,’ and then things just got worse and worse. Nobody ever once tried to help me, try to encourage me. If we’re family, then act like it,” Blatche continued.
Blatche, 26, is now in his eighth season in the league. He was drafted by the Wizards in 2005 in the second round with the 49th overall pick. Once thought to be a cornerstone of a rebuilding franchise, things never worked out for Blatche in Washington. Last season plagued by injuries and conditioning problems, it was no surprise that the Wizards decided to go in another direction.
“[Wizards GM] Ernie Grunfeld “didn’t have my back,” Blatche continued, but said owner Ted Leonsis did. “He’s about winning. He’s a first-class guy, and I have nothing against him.”
He did take responsibility for his lack of conditioning, though.
“I could’ve done a lot more pool workouts, just to take stress off my legs,” Blatche said, but still said he felt an overall lack of support form the entire franchise. He called it especially embarrassing when the team put next to his name in the box score “NWT – Conditioning” as the reason he sat out the final games of the season as he worked his way back into shape and denied that he was a bad teammate.
“For them to say, ‘He’s a bad teammate, he’s a cancer in the locker room, he’s this, he’s that,’ all that was a bunch of lies,” Blatche said. “That’s what really made me mad, because when they start saying those rumors and putting that in the media and all that type of stuff, that basically showed right there they were just trying to end me.”
The question now is whether Blatche has truly put his days in Washington behind him, and whether or not the fans have put it behind them as well. During Wizards practice on Thursday, Wizards coach Randy Wittman didn’t want to get into the kind of reception he thinks Blatche will get when he steps onto the Verizon Center court on Friday in a Brooklyn jersey.
“I don’t know. I’m not here to speculate on those kinds of things,” Wittman said. “We’ll find that out.” Wittman said he has seen some of what Blatche has done for the Nets so far this season, and will take a more extensive look when he goes over film on Thursday night.
“From what I’ve seen, he’s played well,” Wittman said. “It’s a good situation for him. Again we’ve talked about opportunities and taking advantage of situations. That’s what he’s done coming off the bench there for [Brook] Lopez.
Wittman acknowledged that Blatche’s lack of conditioning didn’t help matters.
“That’s what it boils down to for any player in the league,” Wittman added. “If you’re not conditioned you’e not going to perform at your optimal level, so it’s good for him [to have a fresh start in Brooklyn].
“I wish him nothing but the best. I think the time was right for everybody involved to go in a different direction. It wasn’t anything more than that. I like Dray. I hope the best for him, except tomorrow night.”
Not everyone is optimistic that the fans will give Blatche a break on Friday. In fact, Trevor Booker said that he’s a little concerned about the fate of his former teammate when he takes the court on Friday.
“Probably a lot of boos,” Booker said of the reception he expects Blatche to get.
“I heard they got extra security over on his bench, just in case somebody wants to throw stuff. So, I don’t know how true that is. He’s been playing well. I think he’s been struggling lately, though. I think he likes it, coming off the bench. I think he pretty much does what he wants.”
As for how the Wizards fans, treated Blatche last season, Booker said, “If I was playing, I would shut it down. But I’m not playing, so…sometimes, for him? It’s definitely tough. I hope he gets out alive.”
Booker also said that it was next to impossible for the rest of the team to ignore the boos Blatche got last year.
“He was out on the court, so we had to pass him the ball,” Booker said. “It was tough. It was definitely tough for us and him. Was he happy to move on. After he started getting booed, I’m sure he was.”