Andray Blatche didn’t play in the Wizards’ season finale, and fans should’ve otherwise been pleased after watching the team win its sixth game in a row with a 34-point drubbing of the Miami Heat leftovers.
But there was a notable exception to their enthusiasm to end the season. When Blatche came from the locker room and stepped on the court after the game – wearing a leather hoodie jacket and, oddly enough, a Miami Marlins baseball cap – to give a fan the No. 7 jersey off his back, he received an all-too-familiar greeting from a no-longer-forgiving fan base at Verizon Center. He was lustily booed.
After seven years in Washington, Blatche realizes that he might have made his final appearance as a member of the Wizards. The Wizards will look again to deal Blatche this offseason, according to people with knowledge of the situation, but he also remains a candidate for the amnesty provision. JaVale McGee and Nick Young, his long-time teammates, were traded and while President Ernie Grunfeld left open the possibility of Blatche’s return next season, those chances seem remote.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but whatever is going to happen is going to happen for a reason,” Blatche said. “If I come back, I’m more than happy to try to fight through this little hole I’m in. If I’m somewhere else, I’ll continue to try to get better.”
Blatche shot a career-low 38 percent, averaged 8.5 points and 5.8 rebounds this season, lost his starting job and was sent home last month. He was around the team at home games and some practices, but he was essentially hidden on the back shelf for the final 22 games – when the Wizards went 10-12. He never played with Nene.
Fighting through a right shoulder injury, Blatche lost his starting power forward job before suffering a strained left calf. He acknowledged that the first season his production went in reverse was mental as well as physical.
“I just let a lot of minor injuries hurt me and being a selfless player and trying to fight through it and I knew I couldn’t, just because I wanted to play the game so bad,” Blatche said. “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.”
Blatche declared on media day that he was “willing to die for this,” but now he is in a position where he has to resuscitate his career. “It’s going to be a big offseason for me, probably the biggest one ever,” Blatche said. “It’s not just to do with this next season. It’s going to have to do with my whole career.”
The expectations for Blatche were raised significantly when he inked a three-year, $28 million extension in the summer of 2010. But he has been unable to handle the increased responsibility. He spent one game as team captain before criticizing the coaching staff about the offense.
Blatche missed five weeks with his calf injury and the team brought him back six games before the trade deadline. He played nine games in March but was grossly out of shape, averaging 5.1 points on 37.7 percent shooting, with 3.3 rebounds. After he went scoreless in five minutes in Memphis, Blatche said he met with Grunfeld and Wizards vice president of basketball administration and they told him to take some time to work on his body.
“It wasn’t hurtful. How I played this year, it was terrible. The organization had to do something about it,” Blatche said. “I wasn’t playing like the player I’m supposed to be. I told them I couldn’t agree with you more. With the way my body feels is tough. They said take your time off, get back right so we can use whenever you’re ready, next season or whenever you come back.”
According to league sources, Blatche’s weight had ballooned above 280 pounds, creating the need for him to get in better shape. “I made a lot of progress so far. I lost 12 pounds so far. I’m going to keep losing more, get my body toned up. Take care of all the injuries and stay healthy,” Blatche said.
Blatche stayed in the background by choice, coming to the arena for home games, but staying back in the locker room, “not in the hype zone where everybody is dogging me out.” The time away from basketball, Blatche said, not only helped him clear his mind, but also realize the role he played in an injury-filled season he described as “a minor setback.”
The Wizards appear to have already moved on without Blatche, as Trevor Booker, Jan Vesely and Kevin Seraphin all took advantage of his absence to contribute. But if he does come back, Blatche doesn’t expect to have problem getting acclimated again. “Fit in the way I’ve been fitting in,” Blatche said. “I’m not a bad player at all. I just had a tough season. Tough times come and I’m going to fight through them. I’m going to get through them and get ready for next season.
“By me taking off the time, it gave me a chance to get refocused. I know I’m way better than the player I was this season. In my mind, I got it stuck in my head I can come back next year and be the player that I was before this season,” Blatche said. “I definitely had big hopes for the season – a lot of big hopes for the season. I got to try to gain everything back. The only way I can do that is put in the work and let it show.”