Three months after Ted Leonsis officially took over as majority owner of the Washington Wizards, team President Ernie Grunfeld convinced his boss that Andray Blatche, a versatile, 6-foot-11 forward with talent to spare, was a future building block who warranted a three-year extension that made his contract worth $35 million over five years.
Leonsis later explained that the Wizards made the move to extend Blatche — two years before his deal was going to expire — to “show him our confidence in him.”
Less than two years later, the Wizards made a pricey decision proving that the team no longer has any confidence in Blatche’s abilities to contribute to the organization.
The Wizards waived the 25-year-old Blatche on Tuesday, exercising the NBA’s amnesty provision to end a seven-year relationship that begin when they drafted him in the second round in 2005. Under the rules of the latest collective bargaining agreement, Blatche will receive the remaining $23 million that he is owed through 2014-15 and the Wizards will remove his salary from their payroll.
“Andray’s time in D.C. didn’t unfold as any of us had envisioned, and we felt it was best for the Wizards — and for Andray too — if we parted ways,” Leonsis wrote on his blog, Ted’s Take. “I briefly got to know Andray, and I like him and wish him well, but he needs a fresh start somewhere, and we need to move forward with our current core group of players.”
Paying Blatche simply to go away solidified the Wizards’ desire to separate from an embarrassing period in franchise history that was clouded by losing and a lack of professionalism. Blatche is the last remnant of the Wizards’ playoff teams but he also was the only player remaining from the team on which Gilbert Arenas brought guns into the locker room three seasons ago.
Blatche occasionally flashed his immense talents while backing up Antawn Jamison in his first 41 / 2 seasons in Washington, but often got in his own way with a questionable work ethic and other unfortunate moments, including being shot before his rookie season and getting arrested for soliciting a prostitute.
When Grunfeld started his rebuilding efforts by dealing away Jamison and Caron Butler, Blatche took full advantage of his opportunity. In the final 32 games of the 2009-10 season, Blatche averaged 22.1 points on 48.5 percent shooting, with 8.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.5 steals.
Leonsis and Grunfeld rewarded him with an extension but came to regret the decision as Blatche’s production waned and he continued to make poor decisions off the court, such as engaging in a fight with teammate JaVale McGee outside a local club and hosting a party in Miami known as “Lap Dance Tuesdays.” Blatche vowed to change last summer — as he had done two years earlier when he changed his jersey number from 32 to 7 to represent “seven days of hard work.” But he erred on the season opener against New Jersey when he introduced himself as “your captain” to fans at Verizon Center and later complained about his role in the offense after the loss.
He regressed statistically for the first time in his career last season, averaging just 8.5 points and 5.8 rebounds, and Coach Randy Wittman shut him down in March for what the Wizards termed poor conditioning. That decision coincided with the debut of Nene, who was acquired from Denver in a deal that also shipped out McGee and Nick Young. The Wizards finished the season 10-11 without Blatche in uniform.
Blatche, McGee and Young were some of the more prominent faces during the worst four-year run in franchise history. Since the start of the 2008-09 season, the Wizards have gone 88-224.
Blatche has been working out in Houston with former NBA coach John Lucas, but he was viewed as expendable with the Wizards moving in a different direction around former No. 1 overall pick John Wall. Wall, Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin, all entering their third seasons, are now the longest-tenured Wizards.
“Andray did not figure into our future plans, and using the amnesty provision is a mutually beneficial opportunity for us to part ways,” Grunfeld said in a statement. “We will be able to continue to develop our core group of young players, blend in the solid veterans we have acquired and maintain financial flexibility while Andray will be able to get a fresh start with another team. We wish him the best moving forward.”
Blatche becomes the sixth player to be waived this month — 15 overall were waived — under the amnesty provision, which allows teams to cut a player and have their salary removed from the books.
If they hadn’t waived Blatche, the Wizards considered paying him to stay away from the franchise. The move reduced the team’s payroll for next season to roughly $54 million — or about $4 million below the salary cap — for 12 players.
Blatche will receive his money over the same three-year period, but he will stand the chance to earn more money if he clears waivers, as expected, in the next 48 hours.
Blatche did not respond to a phone call and text message seeking comment.
“We appreciate the opportunity to have a fresh start and appreciate the time, effort and care shown by the Wizards,” Blatche’s agent, Andy Miller, said after being informed of the decision.