- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Washington Wizards opted not to match the two-year contract offered to restricted free agent guard Steve Blake by the Portland Trail Blazers, according to president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld.

“I have talked with Steve Blake, who told me that he wanted to play in a situation where he would get significant minutes with a team, and he didn’t feel the situation would present itself here,” Grunfeld said at a press conference yesterday at MCI Center. “We have upgraded our backcourt with some significant additions in the offseason, and he doesn’t think he has an opportunity here. So he preferred to be in a different situation. We’re not going to match the offer, and he is going to end up going to Portland.”

Grunfeld added that Blake requested the Wizards let him go so “he can pursue his dreams.”

Blake, the 38th overall pick by the Wizards in 2003, will join former Wizards teammate Juan Dixon in Portland. Blake started alongside Dixon while helping lead Maryland to the 2002 NCAA championship.

Blake, 25, averaged 5.3 points and 2.3 assists in two seasons with the Wizards.

Last season chronic foot problems limited him to 44 games, down from the 75 he appeared in as a rookie. At the end of last season — a year in which the Wizards won their first playoff series in 23 seasons — Blake acknowledged he wanted to go somewhere he could play regularly rather than remain a backup to All-Star Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes, a first-team all-defensive team selection.

Though Hughes eventually signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers for between $65 million and $70 million, the Wizards added depth to their backcourt when they traded for a backup point guard (Chucky Atkins) and signed another (Antonio Daniels). Both players are established veterans.

In another development, rookie forward Andray Blatche, who was shot early Sunday morning in an apparent carjacking in Alexandria, visited MCI Center yesterday. Later in the day Blatche, released Tuesday from Inova Fairfax Hospital, issued a statement.

“I’m recovering well and want to thank all of the people that have supported me since this occurred,” Blatche said. “It is unfortunate that it happened, and I have certainly learned from this situation. I want to thank the hospital staff, the Wizards organization, my teammates, coaches and my family and friends that have been by my side throughout this ordeal.”

Said Grunfeld: “He’s moving well, and he’s walking well; he’s in good spirits, obviously. That was evident in him coming down here to be with his own teammates.”

Grunfeld indicated the bullet struck Blatche in two places: his right forearm and the left side of his chest.

“It’s scary,” Grunfeld said. “When it happens to someone that is close to you it really hits home. It’s unfortunate, but we’re grateful that it wasn’t worse than it is.”

Although the Wizards don’t have a time frame for when Blatche will be ready to play, Grunfeld ruled out Blatche participating in training camp, which begins Tuesday in Richmond.

“It’s fair to say that he won’t be a participant in training camp,” Grunfeld said. “He may be with the team. But he is going to start doing his rehab, and we’ll see how that goes, and that will determine how quick we’ll have him back in action.”

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