Andray Blatche spent an entire offseason, training camp and preseason trying to convince anyone who would listen that he is ready to change, that he has matured and wants to take more responsibility as a leader. His teammates and coaches raved about his focus and dedication, which appeared to culminate in one glorious moment before the Washington Wizards’ season opener against New Jersey on Monday, when Blatche grabbed a microphone to address fans at Verizon Center.
‘How y’all doing? This is your captain,” Blatche said before asking for their support.
But about three hours later, after the Wizards blew a 21-point lead in a disconcerting 90-84 loss, Blatche made comments about not being used properlyon offense that raised doubts about his supposed transformation in his seventh season.
A day later, Blatche dodged reporters by taking a back exit from the practice court and expressed his frustration over the backlash from his criticism for not getting the ball in the low block on his Twitter account.
“Every body need to shut up I didn’t call out my coach or team mates I said I had a bad game need it n the post instead of jump shots,” he wrote.
Coach Flip Saunders met with Blatche before Tuesday’s practice to sort out the problem. He later glossed over the remarks, saying that he was relieved to finally hear the 6-foot-11 big man finally declare that he was tired of being a “pick-and-pop” player and wanted to work inside.
“His reputation has been for six years that he won’t go in the post,” said Saunders, who once suspended Blatche two seasons ago for getting belligerent when the coaching staff demanded him to go inside instead of settling for jumpers. “We’ll try to continue to get him the ball down there more and be efficient like that. He also has to understand, just because you get it at 17 feet, you don’t have to shoot it, either. I’m not twisting his arm to do that. Just make basketball plays and he’ll be able to do that.”
Blatche and the Wizards will have an opportunity to bounce back from an ominous start on Wednesday, when they will face the Hawks in Atlanta. Saunders had criticized his team for playing selfishly and relying on individual efforts against the Nets. After scoring 11 points on just 5-of-13 shooting and receiving a technical foul after exchanging words with Nets forward Kris Humphries in the second quarter, Blatche responded, “He probably was talking about me for the simple fact that I said I need the ball in the paint to be effective. You can’t keep having me pick and pop and shooting jump shots. Give me the ball in the paint.”
Blatche has tried to assume more of a leadership role this offseason, organizing a team workout after Saunders gave him John C. Maxwell’s “The 17 Essential Qualities Of A Team Player.” Blatche admitted to only reading half of the book and didn’t remember its name.
Blatche and John Wall were named captains before the opener, shaking hands with Nets point guard Deron Williams and getting instructions from the referees. But Saunders said that full-time captains have not been assigned and planned to rotate different players throughout the season.
“It was a situation last night, he’s been here the longest, longer than anybody else, and so we’ll rotate who it’s going to be. Until we decide it’s somebody who has evolved as sort of being our captain.
“Being a captain is not something that’s given to you,” Saunders continued. “It’s something that basically evolves. I know there’s been a lot of guys that have never had a C on their shirt, but have been a leader on the floor more than anybody else. That’ll evolve over time.”
Wizards owner Ted Leonsis said on media day that more was expected of Blatche, who was rewarded with a three-year, $28 million extension in September 2010. The Wizards signed Blatche to the deal to avoid letting him become an unrestricted free agent next summer, when his previous deal would’ve expired.
“I talked to Andray and he understands that the fan base, media are all looking to take cues on can his focus and dedication match his skills,” Leonsis said then. “He’s a young man, and he understands that these are defining moments for him.”
A person close to Blatche said his post-game remarks were misconstrued and merely a reflection of his disappointment with losing a game the team should’ve won. Saunders said that his relationship with Blatche is “fine” but he didn’t expect to hear comments about play calling after the first game of the season.
“It’s disappointing, but we were all disappointed,” Saunders said. “As I’ve said to the players, I want to hear from the players, instead of saying either I’ve got to get this shot or whatever, I’ve really got to get that block out, really contain my guy. It’s a team score, not individual-type score.”