Andray Blatche looks forward to long-term stay with the Wizards

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 25, 2010; 11:40 PM

Andray Blatche's summer appeared to be lost when he suffered a broken bone in his right foot in June. But just before the start of training camp, he found a rewarding conclusion when the Washington Wizards gave him a three-year contract extension worth more than $28 million between now and the 2014-15 season.

The money was right, and getting an upward bump in salary over the next two seasons was even better. Yet the reason Blatche said he decided to sign the deal on Friday was because he doesn't want to leave Washington.

"The main thing about it is, I wanted to be here. I like being here," Blatche said in a telephone interview. "I wanted to be a Wizard. So when they said they wanted to do a deal with me, you know, I'm going to negotiate with them."

And it was Blatche himself who did the actual negotiating - without an agent, having separated from his long-time agent, Eric Fleisher, last month. Blatche said he hired an attorney to an hourly rate to assist him with the legal language of the contract.

The timing for the extension might seem a little premature since Blatche wasn't eligible for free agency until the summer of 2012, but the Wizards were eager to lock up the versatile 6-foot-11 big man to a longer deal, especially with the possibility of a lockout looming after this season.

The Wizards were able to entice the 24-year-old Blatche, who averaged career highs of 14.1 points and 6.3 rebounds last season, by exercising a seldom-used clause in the collective bargaining agreement that allows teams below the salary cap to restructure current deals to pay players more money.

They had about $6 million in available cap room before reaching a deal with Blatche, who will earn $5.9 million this season - almost $2.7 million more than he was slated to earn under the five-year, $12.5 million contract he signed in 2007.

Blatche's salary will escalate each year until he earns $8.4 million in the final year of the deal, according to a source with knowledge of the discussions. His agreement essentially works out to being a five-year deal worth $35 million.

"A deal like that, anybody would want one," Blatche said. "I'm pretty smart with my money, but we did something that made sense. No player in my predicament can say no to someone wanting to give you [an average of] seven [million dollars] a year. So I said yes, and I'm happy that they gave me the opportunity."

The Wizards are committed to a rebuilding effort, centered on No. 1 overall pick John Wall, and they have established Blatche as one of the young building blocks, along with center JaVale McGee.

"That's another reason why I stayed. To me, I think we have something young, coming up, that's going to be great in a couple of years," said Blatche, who will enter his sixth season after being selected 49th overall in 2005. "It's going to be a process. We're going through a rebuilding phase. We have a lot of young players, and everybody is going to have to learn the ways and step up. Me being the player that I am, I'm going to have to step up and be a leader."

Blatche's performance in the final 32 games last season, when he averaged 22.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists, led both sides to start talks this summer. Blatche said he initiated the discussions, but the Wizards continued working to reach a deal even after Blatche broke his foot during his offseason workouts.

Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said Blatche has "full clearance" to participate in full-contact drills but the team may hold him back in the first week or two of practice, with training camp set to begin at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday.

"The foot has healed," Blatche said. "But it doesn't make sense for me to rush. I'm definitely not going to miss games. As long as I don't miss games, it doesn't matter to me."

The injury was a setback to some of his summer plans, but Blatche refused to let it get him down.

"I don't think this affected me at all. It was a curse and a blessing at the same time," he said. "I never in my life worked so hard in the offseason and I've been in the gym every day, doing cardio work, strength work. Don't get me wrong, I was very frustrated, but now, I see how I run and I jump, and I'm thankful. Everything happens for a reason. I look at it as a blessing."

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