Andray Blatche pulled Nick Young’s balled up, red No. 1 jersey out of a corner of his locker room stall. He lifted it up, shook his head, then jokingly pretended to cry. Blatche put on his friend’s jersey, then looked down at Jordan Crawford a few feet away and asked, “Where’s JaVale’s jersey?”
President Ernie Grunfeld completed a three-team trade with Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers that yielded Nene, Brian Cook and a second round in 2015. But before they embraced the change, the Wizards players were feeling a little sentimental after losing three teammates and friends at the trade deadline.
“I’m going to miss them. They are my teammates, they are my friends. I grew up with them,” Blatche said of Young and McGee, who had spent their entire careers playing with Blatche. “We’re going to stay in contact. It’s just the business. It’s not my first time something like this happened. Makes it more easy for me to adjust.”
The Wizards (10-32) were justifiably active at the trade deadline for the third year in a row, truly setting the course for a different era as it sheds two more pieces from what has been one of the most dysfunctional periods in the franchise’s history. With their victory against the equally lowly Hornets, the Wizards have gone just 78-210 since the start of McGee’s rookie season in 2008-09.
“Obviously, we needed adjustments with the way we were playing,” Chris Singleton said. “It happened the way it happened.”
This season has been disastrous, with Flip Saunders already losing his job because he could no longer get through to his players – and now, two of those players have already been shipped out of town.
Young and McGee weren’t the only reasons that the Wizards have been terrible the past four seasons, but they have been around losing so much that their contributions could never consistently lead to victories. They were a part of a culture that focused on individual production and self-promotion over winning basketball – and were oblivious to how their mistakes and inability to adjust affected the team. They took cinnamon challenges, cracked jokes, made videos and had fun on various social media outlets but lost in staggering volume.
But in their defense, Young and McGee were also placed in roles that probably exceeded their capabilities and their limitations prohibited them from lifting the team to greater heights, or even moderate success. Now with Young, a USC alum, headed to his hometown Clippers and McGee going to the Nuggets, the two players will get the chance to possibly experience what selfless, playoff basketball is about – and get utilized properly.
“Those two kids are good people, good kids that are going to a good situation,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “I talked to them this afternoon and said, ‘Hey, sorry it didn’t work out, but you have an opportunity.’ Sometimes those don’t always come around. I wished them luck and hopefully, they take advantage of their opportunity.”
John Wall woke up from his pregame nap and discovered that McGee and Young had been traded. He didn’t have much time to think about the deal, since he was on the team bus to the arena less than an hour later. He responded with one of his most spirited outings of the season, scoring 26 points, handing out 12 assists and expressing enthusiasm and unbridled joy after nearly every big play.
“It was kind of shocking, but the organization did what it had to do,” Wall said. “Nick is always going to be somebody that can score the basketball. Instant offense. That’s what a lot of playoff teams wanted, players that can do that. He can really help that situation. JaVale is somebody that can protect the rim. I’m happy for both of them. They’re both going to a playoff team. I wish them the best of luck. Had fun playing with those guys.”
Blatche had plenty of fun with McGee and Young, with the trio known – for better and worse – for clowning around and cracking jokes for most of their time together. Blatche actually was with Young when he found out that he had been traded. “He’s excited for a change,” he said. “He’s excited about being in the playoffs. I just wish him the best and to do well.”
The Wizards worked hard to trade Blatche as well but couldn’t find a team willing to take on the three years and $23 million left on his deal. He was worried about being traded, but feels that he has been given a chance at redemption for the final 24 games.
“The only reason I was concerned was because I know how poorly I’ve been playing this year,” said Blatche, who is averaging just 8.8 points on a career-low 37.6 percent shooting. “But you know, I’m still here. I still have an opportunity to help this team get more wins and to compete. So I’m going to keep my head and my mind focused on that.”