Andray Blatche came back to Syracuse Friday afternoon, to a place where he once bounced basketballs for the sheer joy the competition inspired.
Back then, the game was simple. The game, for Blatche, was fun.
He grew up at Pioneer Homes, a public housing project that sits hard by Interstate 81. As a young boy, he would hopscotch from Kirk Park to Wilson Park to the Southwest Community Center seeking ways to relieve his boredom and work out his pent-up energy.
And on Friday, at Kirk Park, Blatche saw glimpses of himself in the 200 or so kids who showed up to socialize at the Andray Blatche Foundation’s fourth annual party and backpack giveaway.
Blatche, who turns 26 on Wednesday, stands these days at the crossroads of an NBA career that spans seven years, all with the Washington Wizards. On July 17, the Wizards used the NBA’s amnesty clause to erase Blatche and his salary cap-clogging $23 million contract from their roster. No other NBA team claimed him.
A 6-foot-11 forward with skills that allowed him to average 16.8 points and 8.2 rebounds only two seasons ago was suddenly unemployed.
His ties to the Gilbert Arenas era of guns and other irresponsible behavior made him expendable to an organization hoping to shed its image as an NBA slacker and resurrect its brand. Over the years, Blatche had accumulated a history of incidents that did not endear him to Wizards fans.
He was shot during a carjacking, picked up by undercover police for soliciting sex and arrested for reckless driving. All those incidents happened before he turned 22.
His final season with the Wizards turned into a slow, painful march toward insignificance. He appeared in just 26 games of the shortened lockout season, his final ignominy occurring on March 20 when the organization benched him for lack of conditioning.
“It was very tough,” Blatche said Friday. “It seemed like the Wizards had a string of bad luck with the gun situation and so on. Me getting amnesty this year wasn’t more of a hurt to me, it was more of a blessing to me. I’m looking at that as giving me a chance to go somewhere else and revive my career and become the player I used to be.”
To that end, Blatche’s mother, Angela Oliver, helped facilitate a connection with John Lucas, who is based in Houston. Lucas, the former NBA guard, coach and general manager, has built a reputation for resuscitating ailing NBA careers. Lucas said he looked at Blatche and saw a familiar reflection.
“That was me,” he said, “26 years ago in the league.”
Blatche bought a condominium in Houston, where he has lived since May. Lucas instituted a regimen of yoga, weights and basketball for Blatche to trim what was once a soft 282 pounds into the firmer, trimmer 268 he weighs today.
Blatche “has worked very, very hard,” Lucas said, to whip his game into the kind of shape that would entice NBA teams to take a chance on him. Rumors have swirled about interest from the Miami Heat or the San Antonio Spurs. Blatche laughed when asked about them.
“My dream destination right now would be back on the court. For real. Just to get back on the court,” he said. “It’s something I love to do. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Heat or the Spurs or the D League. Whatever. As long as I’m back on the court playing ball.
“I mean, I love the game. I’m a fan of the game. I love playing basketball. That’s the only thing I’ve been doing since I’ve been little. Basketball is something that is very, very important to me.”
When Blatche played at Henninger, his coach marveled at the skills he possessed. He handled the ball like a guard, Henninger coach Erik Saroney said. He had perimeter range and had such keen basketball intellect, he often used time outs to instruct the coaching staff.
Blatche, with his August birth date, was younger than everyone in his class. So he went to South Kent High School for a fifth year to fortify his grades and prepare for his future. He entered the NBA draft in 2005 straight out of high school. The Wizards selected him with the 49th pick.
He turned 19 later that summer. Blatche acknowledged he could not resist the lifestyle of excess that a mixture of money and youth often encourages. He described himself as “a guy who was very sociable.” And that, said Blatche, “was my mistake.”
“It was difficult — coming from Syracuse, a small city, going to a big city like D.C., where there were a lot of colleges and probably one of the craziest nightlifes,” Blatche said. “I got there as a young kid and I didn’t have my priorities straight at first. I was moreso basketball and having fun. But basketball wasn’t about having fun any more. It was my job. It took me a few years to realize that. And once I did, I was better.”
His friend and former Wizards teammate Hamady Ndiaye said he and Blatche stuck to a strict regimen of workouts last summer in preparation for the NBA season. Ndiaye said he noticed a shift in Blatche’s focus. No longer was Blatche as enthralled with the parties and the frivolity.
“It was the most focused I’d ever seen Dray,” Ndiaye said.
The lockout softened that focus. Blatche said he “was under the impression that there wasn’t going to be a season.” So he spent time in South Carolina, where his mother now lives. He took his family on a Jamaican vacation. He visited old friends in Syracuse.
Andray Blatche, released by the Wizards, hopes to reshape his image and his career | syracuse.com
Andray Blatche is willing to play in the D-League
Since the advent of the NBA's amnesty clause, many highly paid players have been waived only to find new teams shortly thereafter. For players like Chauncey Billups (Knicks to Clippers) and Elton Brand (76ers to Mavericks), the problem wasn't that they lacked all use on the basketball court — it was simply that they made too much money given their contributions.
Precious few of the amnestied players have failed to find new work at all, because it's not as if their large contracts were handed out with no on-court basis at all.
However, some players present different problems altogether.
Consider, for instance, former Washington Wizards forward Andray Blatche, whose remaining three years and $23 million were wiped from the franchise's salary cap figures in mid-July. Over his seven years in DC, Blatche cultivated a reputation as a troublemaker and malcontent. So, despite his considerable abilities and the near-constant need for talented big men around the NBA, Blatche has earned very little interest on the open market.
Things look so dire, in fact, that Blatche is openly proclaiming that he's willing to play in the D-League. From Donna Ditota for The Syracuse Post Standard (via EOB):
"My dream destination right now would be back on the court. For real. Just to get back on the court," he said. "It's something I love to do. It doesn't matter if it's the Heat or the Spurs or the D League. Whatever. As long as I'm back on the court playing ball.
"I mean, I love the game. I'm a fan of the game. I love playing basketball. That's the only thing I've been doing since I've been little. Basketball is something that is very, very important to me."
While these comments might seem like the mark of a player hanging onto his career by any means, it's also true that Blatche appears to be committed to improving himself. As Ditota notes elsewhere in the piece, Blatche was struck up a relationship with former NBA player, coach, and drug addict John Lucas in the hopes of ending bad habits and improving his life. Blatche has moved to a condo near Lucas's home in Houston and started a regular workout including yoga, weight training, and on-court drills.
Those changes won't convince teams that Blatche is an entirely new man. He's dug himself too large a hole to climb out so easily — it's not easy to cast off a history that includes the infamous "Lap Dance Tuesday" party and the least effective captaincy in NBA history. (For that matter, Blatche has claimed newfound maturity before with poor results.) At this point in his career, Blatche will need to prove his commitment in a basketball context before anyone believes him. History suggests that no one should take his promises too seriously.
Yet that doesn't mean Blatche isn't telling the truth about his commitment, or that he's not serious about playing in the D-League to get another shot at the NBA. In fact, it's easy to make the argument that professing an interest in playing in the D-League shows that Blatche understands his current plight. And while he will still have to prove himself on the court, the mere fact that he's discussing the possibility of a stint in some of the country's smallest basketball cities can be a good sign. All Blatche requires is the opportunity to show that his talk means something. Given that he averaged 16.8 ppg and 8.2 rpg just two seasons ago, it would seem prudent for someone to give him that low-risk chance.
Andray Blatche is willing to play in the D-League | Ball Don't Lie - Yahoo! Sports
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." --- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
lets signs blatche! please!
lets give guy a chance to prove himself!
“He’s everything, He has been the perfect coach for me. He understands what I need even if I don’t understand as a player what I need health-wise and time-wise. He continues to push me. He gets on my ass. He allows me to be a player, and at the same time I’m learning every day.” - Duncan on coach Popovich.
At least with this guy you can say he has the kind of physical skills and talent level disburse need, even if he doesn't have a history of smart play or high productivity or what have you. But a guy like Darco is just not a good basketball player. This guy is if he can get his head right.
I say this would be a GREAT pick up!
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