“I ain’t worried about these kids no more,” Blatche said when asked about facing the Wizards. “I’m more concerned about other stuff. It’s nothing major. I’m just going to treat it like another game, go out and have fun.”
Hard as he tried to make Friday’s game feel as if he were playing Oklahoma City or Milwaukee, it just isn’t. Blatche knows it. His new coach and current teammates know it as well.
And the reception Blatche is expected receive from fans who booed him while he represented the team will likely be more brutal than anything he’s heard in the past – especially because the Wizards (4-26) are alone in the NBA basement while still paying Blatche more than $7 million not to play for them.
“To be honest with you, they can boo as loud as they want,” said Blatche, who has rebounded from a horrific final season with the Wizards to have the most efficient season of his career with the Nets. “They supposed to now because I don’t play for them so that’s not going to affect me at all.”
After getting waived using the amnesty provision last July, Blatche has rejuvenated his career in Brooklyn, where is averaging 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds and shooting a career-high 48.6 percent as a reserve for the Nets. He has posted the highest player efficiency rating of his career at 22.45, which ranks 12th in the league (Former Wizard JaVale McGee is 13th at 22.30, while the highest rating for any current Wizard is Nene, who is 16th at 21.93).
Blatche believes that playing a key role on a playoff contender has allowed people to again appreciate the skills and talents that led Wizards General Manager Ernie Grunfeld to reward him with a three-year, $28 million extension in September 2010.
“Honestly, yes. I feel after last season some people may have forgot or some people thought that it was over for me,” Blatche said. “But I owe a lot for John Lucas and Coach Avery [Johnson] for giving me another chance to get me back right. Big up to them.”
Lucas, the former NBA player and coach, trained Blatche last summer in Houston and helped him get back in the shape needed to handle the grind of an 82-game season. Johnson took over from there, making Blatche his personal redemption project and holding him to a program of accountability. But Johnson was dismissed last week after the Nets lost 10 of their first 13 games in December.
“It’s tough but it’s the nature of the business,” said Blatche, who played for four coaches in seven seasons in Washington. “I shot him a text and told him how much I appreciated what he’d done for me and so on and so on.”
Carlesimo, who is 3-1 since taking over, acknowledged that Blatche and Johnson had developed a close relationship, which may have contributed to his recent slump.
“There is no question that [Nets general manager Billy King] and moreso Avery’s decision, meeting with him and talking to him and everything has really been good for Andray, personally, and really good for us,” Carlesimo said. “He had a special bond with Avery and was probably, I haven’t thought about, probably the most affected out of all of them. because, even though it was a short time, that decision and his relationship with Avery was such, that it probably impacted him more than anybody.”
Despite their recent struggles, the Nets remain in the playoff hunt and Blatche is playing a role similar to the one he had in his first 4½ seasons in Washington, where he was part of a veteran-laden team featuring Antawn Jamison, Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler. Blatche has no complaints about his current situation.
“I was more younger in my role, and back then it wasn’t as big as it is now,” said Blatche, who is wearing No. 0 in part because of his relationship with Arenas. “It feels good to be back in a playoff run. It’s been a while. But we still got some improving to do, and we’re going to continue to get better as a team so we can get as far as we can.”
Blatche took some shots against his former team in late November, cracking jokes about them on Twitter and venting in a radio interview about a lack of support from the organization. But he said he still remains friends with some of the players he battled with.
“I’m still cool with all my teammates. Just like I said before, me and my teammates have always been friends,” Blatche said. “I still keep in contact with Nick [Young] and JaVale that’s gone. We all still friends. We check on each other once in a while, and there’s no bad blood for the other players on the other team.”
When asked about his time in Washington, Blatche said, “I’m leaving this whole situation in the past, and I have.”
Carlesimo joked that he might rest Blatche and save him for Saturday’s game against Sacramento, then said he hoped that the emotion of being back in Washington would help the 6-foot-11 big man play some inspired basketball. “I’d rather that than just, it’s ‘another game.’ Really, it’s part of the learning experience,” Carlesimo said. “Tonight is a challenge.”
Blatche is trying to handle it best, by attempting, futily, to ignore its significance. “I have no feeling at all for it. It’s a regular game for me. No emotional ties or nothing,” Blatche said. “I’m just going to go out and play.”