Wizards ready for Andray Blatche’s return to Washington

January 3, 2013

Y’all ready for me? (AP Photo/Darren Abate)

John Wall, Trevor Ariza, Trevor Booker and A.J. Price all participated in some portion of practice on Thursday, providing what amounted to a reunion as the Wizards had a rare practice following back-to-back games.

It was the first time since the season began that the Wizards had 15 players on floor, though Ariza is only member of that injured quartet who could possibly be available when the team hosts the Brooklyn Nets on Friday at Verizon Center.

The Wizards will have another sort of reunion when Andray Blatche returns to the place that he called home for the first seven seasons of his career before he was waived using the amnesty provision last July.

Blatche perhaps had the most unceremonious departure of any Wizard, with fan angst reaching the point that he was booed every time he touched the ball at home games. Kwame Brown and Juwan Howard heard similar jeers in their finals in Washington, but Blatche heard boos when he was introduced as a starter or for entering the game off the bench after failing to deliver after the Wizards gave him a three-year, $28-million extension.

Since joining Brooklyn, Blatche certainly hasn’t endeared himself to fans in Washington as he has poked fun at his former team for its lousy start on Twitter and recently blasted the organization during a radio interview with 106.7 The Fan.

Booker said he already knows what kind of reaction his former teammate will receive when he makes his debut in an opposing team’s uniform.

“Probably a lot of boos,” he said. “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.”

Booker then joked, “I hope he makes it out alive.”

Playing a reserve role with the Nets, Blatche has rebounded from his worst season in Washington. He is averaging 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds and shooting a career-high 48.6 percent in just 20.4 minutes per game, the fewest minutes he’s received in nearly five years. 

“It’s a good situation for him and I think it’s turned out,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “From what I’ve seen, he’s played well.”

Blatche’s final season in Washington unraveled after he developed a strained left calf and struggled to get back into shape. He lost his starting power forward job to Booker in January and played poorly when he came back. He later expressed his frustration over getting booed, claiming that it affected his performance.

“It was definitely tough for us and him,” Booker said. “He was out on the court, so we had to pass him the ball.”

After the team was unable to move him in a trade, Blatche was later benched the final month of the season for “conditioning” problems. Blatche spent the offseason in Houston, getting back into top form while training with John Lucas. Wittman credited that commitment to his body as the reason for his improved play in Brooklyn.

“If you’re not conditioned, you’re not going to perform at your optimal level, so its good for him,” Wittman said. “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,” he said. “I hope the best for him, except tomorrow night.”

Booker agreed that Blatche was happy to move on. “After started getting booed, I’m sure he was,” he said.

Since Blatche taunted the Wizards for an 0-12 start in late November, the Nets have gone 8-11 and replaced Avery Johnson – who had taken Blatche under his wing as his personal project – with P.J. Carlesimo.  The Wizards have gone 4-14 but are getting closer to returning to full strength.

In his past 10 games, Blatche is averaging just 8.2 points and 4.4 rebounds, but Booker is expecting him to come out fired up to play his former team.

“If I was playing, I would shut it down,” Booker said with a laugh. “But I’m not playing, so…”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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Michael Lee · January 3, 2013