UPDATE: It's now official.
The day has finally come. With the Tuesday midnight deadline fast approaching, the Washington Wizards have decided to use the amnesty clause on Andray Blatche, according to CSN Washington's Chris Miller and NBA.com's David Aldridge. Blatche's seven-year tenure with the Wizards will officially come to an end.
Blatche was slated to make just under $7.2 million this year and $23 million over the next three years. The Wizards will still have to pay him, but that money will be removed from their salary cap.
As I've written before, I'm not surprised the Wizards dragged their feet with this decision. Amnestying Blatche doesn't really do the Wizards much good this year in terms of cap space this season. The Wizards' current payroll is about $61.7 million, not including the minimum cap holds for James Singleton, Roger Mason, Maurice Evans and Morris Almond. Letting go of Blatche drops that number to $54.6 million. Since that number is only $3.4 million under the cap, the Wizards really wouldn't gain very much. They could get the room exception, worth about $2.5 million in the first year, but that's fairly minor and they'd only get it if they didn't use the mid-level exception. They could also trade for a player making $3.4 million or less and not receive anything in return, but that's only by renouncing everyone. What they can't do is take Blatche's salary and apply it elsewhere in the immediate future.
With all that in mind, there really wasn't much harm in waiting until the last minute. It's not like they could make another move happen by doing it sooner.
However, in the end, the Wizards did the right thing. Wizards officials have spoken, both publicly and privately, about the improved work ethic the players are showing this summer. Keeping Blatche around would have gone against the stated direction of the franchise. With no trade partners emerging, no ability to buy Blatche out with a huge amount in one check and and an NBPA grievance likely to happen had the Wizards kept him under contract but away from the team, the amnesty clause was the only option. It cost Ted Leonsis plenty of money, but it had to be done.
And thus ends the frustrating seven-year Wizards career of Andray Blatche. Some reflections below the jump.I'll argue that the most important moment of Blatche's career came when he broke his foot early in the 2010 offseason. Prior to that, progress was slow, but there. Blatche finally started acting like a professional in 2009-10, and what resulted was easily his best season as a pro. Even if his stat-padding at the end of the year inflated his value, there were glimpses that he could be a useful player, if not a superstar.
The broken foot, though, ruined a lot of that progress, and that's Blatche's fault. I think it gave him an excuse to feel sorry for himself instead of continuing the momentum he showed in the latter part of the 2010 season. He didn't rehab the injury vigorously enough and used it as an excuse for his poor play to begin the season.
Had he not suffered that broken foot, maybe things would be different. But from that point on, no amount of work he did could make up for the poor mindset he showed that summer. It only got worse when the Wizards tried to inspire him by making him the team captain the next year. That just added pressure and responsibility on a player that responded poorly to success and even more poorly to failure.
Of course, one cannot reflect on Blatche's career without noting that he is the only player drafted by the Wizards during Ernie Grunfeld's tenure that received a contract extension (two, in fact). At the time, I thought that it was a calculated risk, an attempt to secure a bargain deal if he continued to develop that likely wouldn't have come if he had another good year and hit the open market. In retrospect, Grunfeld probably should have taken Blatche's history, disposition and current foot injury into account before locking him up with a long-term commitment. Clearly, he overestimated the need to prevent Blatche from hitting the open market.
About that disposition: I think, like many troubled NBA players, Blatche is misunderstood. He is really a good guy, the kind of human being I think we'd all appreciate more if he didn't play professional basketball. But in many ways, that was part of the problem. He heard everyone's criticism and I think he was too sensitive to it all. That caused him to lash out at bad times and feel depressed about his own situation instead of making steps to fix things.
He's like the friend you have that gets depressed every time a relationship ends. It takes you a month to pull him off his couch and back into your social circle, and while you feel sorry for all the pain he's suffered, you know he just can't keep pulling that act every time. At a certain point, he just needs to suck it up and move on to maintain his happiness.
That was always Blatche's issue. Every time he suffered a setback, he retreated to his couch until he was ready to move on. The problem is that, in professional sports, every day you aren't progressing as an athlete is a day you're stepping back. You can't spend too much time wallowing in your sorrows and expect to make it up once you're ready. That, ultimately, was why Blatche could never get in proper physical condition.
In another professional field, I think Blatche's disposition would be more valued. I always found it striking, for example, that he was always one of the first players on the team to volunteer for community service work. He has a gift for reaching kids, making people smile and doing good deeds. But the NBA world is cutthroat, and people don't care about that much when you are underachieving at your job.
I also think this is just the kind of person he is. Keeping him around, sticking him as the 15th man on the depth chart and hoping he'd work his way up is wishful thinking. The more likely scenario is that he stays exactly where he is because he doesn't have the mental toughness to fight the adversity that's been handed to him. At that point, you have a guy in the locker room on a team the Wizards hope will be full of fighters that himself isn't a fighter. It's an odd look.
That's why it's no surprise things ended this way. There's just not much upside in Blatche left. The Wizards have done this dance far too many times to think we could ever see the Blatche we saw in 2010 again. It's time to pull the plug.