In hindsight, the Washington Wizards’ forward thinking was probably a mistake. Back in the summer of 2010, the Wizards were looking ahead two summers when they signed Andray Blatche to a three-year, $28 million extension that would keep him with the franchise through the 2014-15 season.
At the time, Blatche had two seasons left on his deal and was slated to become an unrestricted free agent in 2012. Fearing there might be a lockout that would wipe out the entire 2011-12 season, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld made a bold move and locked up the versatile, 6-foot-11 big man who was coming off an impressive two-month statistical stretch. He even structured the deal to ensure that Blatche would receive an early salary bump.
The alternative was letting Blatche play out his deal — in which he would’ve earned $3.52 million in the last season — and risk letting him walk without compensation.
Right now, that would likely be the preferred option for both sides, as the Wizards have aggressively sought to move Blatche by the March 15 deadline and fans at Verizon Center have soured on Blatche to the point that he is booed every time he enters the game, touches the ball or makes a mistake.
A separation is probably best for Blatche and the team, and he recently admitted that he wouldn’t let the speculation surrounding his future affect his play. “I’ve been here for seven years. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go,” Blatche said. “If in any way and form they feel like it’s time for me to go, it’s part of the business. No hard feelings in this at all.”
Grunfeld declined to comment when asked specifically about Blatche on Tuesday, but he acknowledged that the Wizards have actively spoken with several teams about possible deals. In the past two seasons, the Wizards have dealt Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood, DeShawn Stevenson and Kirk Hinrich near the trade deadline, with those deals yielding current starters Trevor Booker, Jordan Crawford and Chris Singleton.
“Before the trade deadline, it’s always very busy. There’s a lot of conversations,” Grunfeld said. “We’ve been busy the last two trade deadlines. A lot of things have happened. We’ll continue to work the phones and see if there are some opportunities there. But I think things will get busier as the week progresses. But will anything happen? Only time will tell.”
If the Wizards are unable to deal Blatche, they would still have at their disposal the amnesty provision, which would allow them to waive a player, pay him the remainder of his salary but have the contract removed from the salary cap. But they wouldn’t be able to make such a decision until before next season.
Injuries and other distractions have prohibited Blatche from building upon that impressive two-month stretch late in the 2009-10 season — in which he averaged 22.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.5 steals. He had a broken foot when the deal was signed, arrived in training camp out of shape last season, struggled with injuries and poor conditioning and even got into an altercation with JaVale McGee at a local club.
After pledging to make amends for past indiscretions and assuming more of a leadership role this season, Blatche got off to a rough start this season when he complained about his role in the offense after the first game. He started getting booed in pregame introductions before he was eventually benched, then missed five weeks with a strained left calf, setting up an even more hostile environment at Verizon Center when he returned.
Blatche now has to work out the rust of not playing for several weeks as his every move is the source of derision for the home fans. The jeers reached an all-time high on Monday against Golden State, as Blatche finished with four points and four rebounds, lost a battle for a rebound with 5-9 guard Nate Robinson and looked confused and short on confidence.
“Every time I touch the ball, I’m second-guessing. I’m trying to avoid the boos. Trying to play a perfect game so I don’t have to hear it so I can help my team win,” said Blatche, who is averaging just 9.5 points and shooting a career-low 37.3 percent this season. “It’s got to the point now where I come in and sub and the boos are coming. It’s not even a point of giving me a chance. I’m going to continue to try and work. Hopefully something will happen for me. I don’t know.”
Coach Randy Wittman has encouraged Blatche to play through the ridicule but with more expected to come when the Wizards host the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday, he shrugged when asked how that’s possible.
“It happens. You hate it. Like I said, the fans, I’d never do something like that to a team I’m rooting for, but that’s their — it is what it is,” Wittman said. “I’m sure that’s something that if you walked into the arena every day and that happened to you, you wouldn’t feel too good about yourself.”