The Washington Wizards have until Tuesday to make a move that would permanently sever ties with forward Andray Blatche, but the organization remains undecided about using the one-time amnesty provision, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.
The provision allows teams to cut a player and remove his contract from the salary cap. When asked which way the Wizards were leaning, a league source said the team was “standing straight up.”
Blatche has been a disappointment since signing a three-year extension in 2010 that restructured his existing contract to be worth $35 million over five years. Uneven play on the court and questionable decisions away from the court have made Blatche a target of derision from fans at Verizon Center and a once-supportive front office has been seriously considering options to part ways.
One person with knowledge of the Wizards’ thinking said this week that there is a “fair” chance that the team would waive Blatche. But before asking owner Ted Leonsis to give Blatche the remaining $23 million on his contract to just go away, the Wizards continue to work the phones in an effort to find a palatable trade for 6-foot-11 forward, according to sources.
The Wizards were unsuccessful in their efforts to move Blatche at the trade deadline and around the NBA draft, and one league source remained doubtful that he could be dealt “unless [the Wizards] give up a major asset to provoke the trade.”
Blatche, the longest-tenured player on the roster and the last remaining player from their playoff teams, regressed statistically for the first time in his seven-year career last season, when he averaged 8.5 points and 5.8 rebounds in just 26 games.
Coach Randy Wittman shut down Blatche last March, In doing so, he banned Blatche from traveling with the team on the road so Blatche could improve his conditioning.
Wittman, who was given a two-year deal last month, has deflected questions about Blatche, who doesn’t appear to be part of the Wizards’ long-term plans even if he does survive the amnesty deadline. President Ernie Grunfeld has responded to media inquiries about Blatche by stating, “He’s under contract.”
Blatche has been getting in shape in Houston with John Lucas, but when asked about how those training sessions have progressed, Blatche wrote a text message that read, “Not really into talkin about it been talkin long enough and too much.”
The Wizards drafted 6-11 forward Jan Vesely with the sixth pick in the 2011 draft and added big man Emeka Okafor from New Orleans in a trade last month, pushing Blatche further down on the depth chart.
Blatche had already lost his starting spot to energetic forward Trevor Booker last season. The team acquired Okafor and Trevor Ariza instead of buying out Rashard Lewis for $13.7 million, raising the perception for some in the league that Leonsis was unwilling to dump Blatche without getting anything in return.
If Blatche were to return, the Wizards also have the option of keeping Blatche on the roster and paying him to stay away, as the Indiana Pacers did with Jamaal Tinsley four years ago. Cutting Blatche would remove his salary from the cap — reducing the payroll by nearly $7.1 million next season — but the actual impact on the books is negligible.
The Wizards aren’t pursuing any prominent free agents after committing most of their money to Nene, Okafor and Ariza. On Thursday the team signed Cartier Martin to a one-year deal worth the veteran’s minimum — about $1 million for a player with his experience.
The salary cap is roughly $58 million and the Wizards currently have about $61.2 million committed to 12 players, including recent first-round draft pick Bradley Beal.
That means that they wouldn’t be in danger of reaching the luxury tax level of $70.3 million — which would include a dollar for dollar tax — by keeping Blatche or falling below the minimum team salary level of $49.3 million by cutting him.
The move would be more about creating a clean slate from an embarrassing era of losing and lack of professionalism than freeing up money to sign potential free agents.
The Wizards began the culture change at the trade deadline when they dealt Nick Young and JaVale McGee to Denver for Nene. Three days later, Blatche and Lewis were shut down and the team finished the season 10-11, recording half of their overall victories.
Blatche has spent his career with the Wizards after being drafted 49th overall in the 2005 draft and he has career averages of 9.9 points and 5.4 rebounds. He had career highs of 16.8 points and 8.3 rebounds two seasons ago.
In the last collective bargaining agreement, teams were allowed to use the amnesty provision on contracts that were signed under the previous deal. Players receive all of their money but it doesn’t count against the salary cap or luxury tax.
Orlando was the first team to take advantage of the clause, removing Gilbert Arenas and the $63 million remaining on the $111 million extension he signed with Washington in 2008. New York (Chauncey Billups), Cleveland (Baron Davis), Portland (Brandon Roy), New Jersey/Brooklyn (Travis Outlaw), Indiana (James Posey) and Golden State (Charlie Bell) also used the provision last season.
Philadelphia cut Elton Brand and the $18.1 million remaining on his salary on Wednesday and used the available cap room to sign free agent guard Young and take back Dorell Wright from Golden State in a three-team deal.
Dallas used the amnesty clause on Thursday on former Wizard Brendan Haywood and eliminated $27.2 million from the books. The Mavericks used the money to sign free agent center Chris Kaman.