On Andray Blatche

With options to fill out the back of the roster waning, the Brooklyn Nets will reportedly sign former Washington Wizards forward Andray Blatche to a one-year, non-guaranteed contract for the veteran’s minimum. Though the signing is temporarily on hold as Blatche deals with personal issues, barring a significant change of fortune a contract is an inevitability.

Blatche is no stranger to personal issues in his career, having played his most prominent seasons in a tumultuous Washington Wizards clubhouse. In 2007, Blatche signed a multi-year deal that was delayed after an arrest in which Blatche solicited an undercover police officer, and for not appearing on a charge of driving without a license. Blatche was again arrested roughly a year later in June 2008, for reckless driving and driving on a suspended license for the third time. In 2010, the Wizards fined Blatche (and three of his teammates) $10,000 for making light of Gilbert Arenas’s gun charges in a pregame huddle. He’s struggled with maturity and conditioning issues, allegedly challenged a fan to a fight on Twitter, and engaged in various issues through social media.

Blatche was the no-brainer choice when Washington elected to use its amnesty clause this summer, ridding Washington of three years and $23 million on its salary cap, and was not bid on by any teams under the cap during the amnesty waiver process. Wizards fans rejoiced when Blatche got the amnesty axe, similarly to how Nets fans rejoiced at the Travis Outlaw amnesty.

The move is seen as a low-risk, high-reward choice for the Nets, who will sell Blatche as the fifth big to round out their rotation of Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries, Mirza Teletovic, and Reggie Evans; adding a 26-year-old, 6’11” power forward who averaged 16-8 just two years ago for a non-guaranteed deal could pay dividends.

The move is certainly low-risk, as any non-guaranteed deal is, but Andray Blatche’s “reward” is up for debate. He had his best season two years ago, averaging 16.8 points and 8.2 rebounds in 64 games, but averaged those numbers on a 23-59 team and routinely got torched inside by more efficient opponents. Despite averaging nearly 17 points per game, Blatche’s effective field goal percentage was fifth-worst among qualifying forwards and centers (ahead of two former Nets!), scored just 0.84 points per possession, and shot under 33% in isolation situations, his most frequent play set according to mySynergySports.

In other seasons, Blatche’s production has ranged from poor to average, accompanying decent assist numbers for a big and average rebounding with inefficient scoring. Blatche has produced 100 points per 100 possessions in his career, with a career-high of 103 points per 100 possessions, both below the league average. He is a slow, lumbering forward, with barely enough lift to get off the ground and little beyond a few surprising dribble moves for a man of his stature and speed. His defense is shaky even in his rare moments of motivation, and those are more often accompanied by abject failures of effort. There is no part of the game where Blatche excels at the NBA level nor any specific role he fills that makes him an effective secondary option.

When the Nets were throwing gobs of money at Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez, I contended that the price tag was irrelevant; as the Nets were already well over the cap, all that mattered was how the players produced, and Humphries and Lopez, for all their flaws, were two positive pieces. The same standard is true for Andray Blatche: the money, however minor, doesn’t matter. What matters is what he can bring to the floor as a backup, and it’s difficult for me to see where he fits in a five-big rotation where each big man brings a significant and specific skillset to the floor.

But to many, Blatche doesn’t represent the “what,” he represents the “if.” He’s not inefficient production. He’s wasted talent. And wasted talent is still talent. The fact of the matter is, you can sell this deal. And that’s all that really matters. You can sell this deal to fans as giving a player marred with issues his shot at redemption. You can sell this as the next shot at finding a Gerald Green in the rough, even though Green and Blatche are incomparable. But they both have “talent,” and talent will get you second chances. And third chances. And fourth chances. And more chances, until you’re old enough that your talent well seems dried up. At 26, Blatche still has plenty of chances in the tank.

Even if he’s as terrible defensively as he’s proven since 2005, even if he’s an inefficient scorer off the bench, even if he rebounds at a barely average rate and turns the ball over too much for a forward, even if he’s a complete bust that crashes and burns by November, you can sell the fanbase for now on that ethereal possibility that there’s still something in there worth salvaging. And if he’s not any of these things? Grand success.

It’s not that the deal is no-risk on the floor, it’s that it’s no risk to the franchise. Blatche will be signed to be the fifth-best big man on a team that’s not going to need it without injury. He won’t sully a locker room filled with professionals, he’ll either grow up or ship out. If he works out, the Nets look prescient, and if he doesn’t, Blatche is the one that walks away penniless with his tail between his legs still getting paid $23 million by Washington. There is no risk for the front office, because no matter what, they come out looking good: either as no-risk risk-takers or the ones that saw the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel of poor character and penurious production.

If Andray Blatche makes the Nets out of training camp, I’ll root for him to succeed, because that’s how I’m wired. Despite my issues with Blatche’s past results, I would love if his future performance proved me wrong. It’d be fantastic if he developed into an effective backup in a good team’s rotation. Perhaps it’s my fault for having lost hope in Blatche in the last few years. No man wants to be known for his past embarrassing transgressions, and Brooklyn is a new city for him to leave poor choices behind and begin anew, surrounded by veterans that won’t encourage his decadence. Blatche was a cog in a terrible machine, and now that that engine’s been ripped apart, maybe things will change. Maybe this really is the shot Blatche needs, and maybe he’ll slide easily into the role as a backup’s backup. Maybe this is the first step for Andray Blatche to tear down the preconceived notions from his detractors. Maybe.

So I’m rooting for you, Andray. Good luck. I hope you need less than I think.