Washington Wizards forward and captain Andray Blatche, who is about as qualified to lead a team as he would be a space shuttle mission, struggled Monday while Washington squandered a 21-point first-half lead in its season-opening loss to the New Jersey Nets.
Outscored, outrebounded and — worst of all — outhustled by his Nets counterparts, Blatche, beginning his seventh NBA season, reaffirmed that he’s still clueless when he criticized Coach Flip Saunders for failing to use him correctly. Only a few hours after thanking fans at Verizon Center for supporting the Wizards, Blatche turned on Saunders, the man he is expected to back the strongest.
This is why the Wizards are doomed to be the Wizards. They continue to make the same major mistakes, promoting the wrong people to the biggest roles, and then they express surprise when they fail. Blatche is the latest example – albeit a big one – of the Wizards incorrectly identifying something special in some players. And as long as Blatche maintains a prominent position, team president Ernie Grunfeld deserves criticism, because Grunfeld should have ended Blatche’s bad act long ago.
Even by Blatche’s blockheaded standards, his selfish post-game rant exhibited a stunning new level of obliviousness. That Blatche’s latest incident occurred on the night his captaincy was announced, well, you just couldn’t make this stuff up. The Wizards plan to have rotating captains this season, so Blatche may not have the job again. But the damage has already been done.
Essentially, Saunders did a poor job in the 90-84 loss, Blatche surmised, because “you can’t keep having me pick and pop and shooting jump shots,” he told reporters in the locker room. “Gimme the ball in the paint. That’s where I’m most effective at. I’ve been saying that since training camp. I need the ball in the paint. I don’t want to be the pick-and-pop guy I used to be because it’s not working for me.”
Blatche wasn’t made available to speak to reporters on Tuesday, but in typical fashion remarked on his Twitter account: “Every body need to shut up I didn’t call out my coach or team mates I said I had a bad game need it n the post instead of jump shots.”
First, let’s address the absurdity of Blatche directing the spotlight at himself. Regardless of Saunders’s playcalling, Blatche missed eight of 13 field goal attempts and finished with just 11 points. He had no offensive rebounds among eight total for the team.
For the Nets, forward Kris Humphries had 21 points and 16 rebounds, including seven offensive. New Jersey had 10 more offensive rebounds than Washington and a 20-rebound advantage overall.
Apparently, Washington’s captain was too busy pouting about his lack of post-ups to work harder at rebounding.
Granted, a 20-rebound deficit is on Washington’s other players and the coaching staff, too. But Blatche is expected to set the right example. That’s the responsibility Blatche assumed when he accepted the captain’s gig. It’s called leadership.
A guy listed at 6 feet 11 and 260 pounds plays 39 minutes and doesn’t grab one offensive rebound? And then he wants to analyze Saunders’s performance? It’s called lack of self-awareness.
Perhaps Saunders simply observed how active Humphries and New Jersey forward Damion James (14 rebounds) were on defense and determined it wasn’t in the Wizards’ best interest to run the offense through Blatche in the post. Maybe Saunders had flashbacks of Blatche, out of shape last season, struggling to score inside. Or Saunders could have just decided that Blatche wasn’t doing enough well overall (like rebounding and playing defense, maybe?) to warrant getting the ball where he would have preferred.
Instead of focusing on himself, Blatche should have taken a big-picture view of Washington’s performance.
Certainly, a more encouraging message would have been appropriate. He could have reminded fans about the Wizards’ youth and inexperience. After another demoralizing loss at the outset of a new season in which management is promoting improvement, the Wizards needed their new captain to conduct himself like one.
Actually, I don’t fault Blatche for quickly proving what everyone except the Wizards already knew: He’s not captain material.
It’s difficult to fathom how Washington put itself in this position with a player who, in his first six seasons, proved he shouldn’t even be in the organization, let alone given significant responsibility.
On and off the court, Blatche has exhibited horrible judgment. Saunders has kicked him out of practice and benched him for the majority of a game for having an awful attitude.
Blatche also has an uncanny knack for bad timing, as evidenced by his missteps Monday night and his benching two seasons ago on the night the Wizards’ public relations department increased its efforts to help him win the NBA’s most improved player award. Last season, Washington suspended Blatche one game for his involvement in an altercation outside an area club with teammate JaVale McGee. And someone writing from Blatche’s Twitter account challenged a person to a fight.
He’s a true leader of men.
Grunfeld should have traded Blatche, whom he drafted and rewarded with contracts, or released him in the past. He made similar mistakes with Gilbert Arenas, overlooking the immature all-star guard’s shortcomings. Grunfeld believed way too much in Arenas until it was too late. Also, the so-called “Big Three” of Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler wasn’t as good as Grunfeld thought.
In three seasons, that group never won more than 43 games in the regular season and failed to advance to the second round of the playoffs. Yet, instead of accepting Washington had gone as far as it could with them, Grunfeld doubled down, trading for Randy Foye and Mike Miller. The Wizards have been in the NBA draft lottery since.
Despite the Wizards’ lack of success the past three seasons, Grunfeld is a solid basketball man. But he’s loyal to a fault, and the Wizards can no longer afford to wait on people incapable of reaching heights Grunfeld envisions for them.