Andray Blatche and Wizards: A marriage that can’t be saved


The Wizards need to part ways with Andray Blatche, for his sake as much as theirs. (Jonathan Newton/WASHINGTON POST)
Jason Reid
Columnist March 9, 2012

If all goes well for the Washington Wizards and forward Andray Blatche, their painful partnership will end before Thursday’s NBA trading deadline.

Washington must separate from Blatche, whose every move stirs boos in the team’s home arena, and he needs a fresh start after spending his entire disappointing career here.

Jason Reid is a sports columnist with the Washington Post. He joined the Post’s Redskins team in 2007 after 15 years covering many beats at the Los Angeles Times. View Archive

But if there are no takers for Blatche, which wouldn’t be surprising, considering his poor reputation around the league, the Wizards should make a bold move in an attempt at closure: Send Blatche home.

Remove Blatche from the active roster. Encourage him to take a break and try to get his head together far away from Verizon Center. The Wizards should make it clear to Blatche (and more importantly, Washington’s fans) that their time together is over.

Then, sometime before next season, the Wizards could use the league’s amnesty provision, which allows teams to waive players and remove their contracts from salary cap accounting. Although Washington would still owe Blatche $23 million after this season, at least it would be done dealing with Blatche, and you can’t put a price on peace of mind.

There’s precedent for franchises to essentially fire players, even those who are physically capable of performing. It happened recently with the NFL’s Washington Redskins, who suspended defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth for the final four games of the 2010-11 season.

Usually, teams send players home during the season only for disciplinary reasons (the Redskins accused Haynesworth of conduct detrimental to the club). This season, Blatche hasn’t done anything to warrant extreme punishment.

By permitting Blatche to leave if he’s not traded, however, the Wizards would actually be helping him. His mere presence in a Wizards uniform inspires derision from fans, making an already difficult experience even worse for the struggling team.

For the seven years since the Wizards drafted Blatche out of high school, some fans have overlooked his lack of interest in improving his conditioning. They hoped Blatche would learn from his poor choices in challenging coaches’ authority and using Twitter to berate critical fans.

Optimistically, they thought Blatche, 25, would begin to exercise better judgment, work on his game more and party in nightclubs less.

Wizards supporters were eager to believe management, which expressed confidence that Blatche, at 6 feet 11 with impressive offensive skills, could become a cornerstone of the team’s future. He simply needed to grow up a little, the Wizards said.

Apparently, fans are no longer buying it. The jeering directed toward Blatche in Monday’s game against Golden State was as bad as anything I’ve seen during more than 20 years working in NBA arenas.

Blatche played poorly in just his second game back after missing five weeks because of injury, and he had another of his signature head-scratching moments, losing a battle for a rebound with 5-9 guard Nate Robinson.

Presumably, though, there was more to the fans’ frustration than Blatche’s bad performance. It was as if they were sending a message to the Wizards that this sad act has to end immediately.

Against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday, Blatche appeared unsure of himself and played just 10 minutes. Even some within the organization acknowledge they’re concerned about Blatche. He’s struggling to cope with the pressure of his situation, which he and Wizards management created.

The basketball court isn’t the best place for Blatche right now. He has acknowledged his confidence is shot, and he’s “trying to avoid the boos. Trying to play a perfect game so I don’t have to hear it.”

Professional athletes can’t function that way. The best ones use fan chatter for extra motivation.

During a game early in his career, a fan heckled Michael Jordan for dunking over a player who was shorter than him. The next time Jordan’s team had the ball, Jordan dunked over a 7-4 center. While running back upcourt, Jordan turned to the fan and asked, “Was he big enough?”

Obviously, Jordan was unique. Not only was he the greatest player in NBA history, he was one of the mentally toughest athletes ever. Blatche shouldn’t be expected to feed off the crowd like Jordan.

But the fact that Blatche is so psyched out about the booing, and willing to acknowledge it publicly, shows how low he’s sunk.

Blatche’s concern about fan reaction is impeding his job performance, as evidenced by his personal-low 37.7-percent shooting. (His career mark of 45.8 percent is actually solid).

He personifies everything that frustrates Wizards fans about the organization. In touting the team’s players, management often focuses on statistics and physical potential while ignoring the importance of maturity and basketball smarts.

Considering Blatche’s lack of confidence and productivity, not to mention his questionable off-court conduct, it’s difficult to imagine a team would trade for him unless the Wizards were also willing to give up something significant as well.

By the end of Blatche’s contract, the Wizards would have paid him more than $40 million. That kind of investment is hard to write off. It’s understandable the Wizards would want compensation for Blatche — but that doesn’t mean they’ll get it.

When it’s clear something cannot continue, the most prudent move — and often the only one — is to swallow hard and cut your losses. After the trading deadline, the Wizards may have to finally accept they’ve reached that point with Blatche.

For Jason Reid’s previous columns go to washingtonpost.com/reid.

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