HANGTIME SOUTHWEST — Andray Blatche can be a baaaaaad man. By both interpretations of the vernacular.
His talent (if not always his effort) is undeniably positive, a big man with a handle so supple he makes guys half his size envious. And, man, does he have moves. Like Sunday night when he sized up Sixers center Spencer Hawes a step inside the arc and with one dribble to the right put Hawes on his heels, veered into the paint, launched himself to the rim while levitating the basketball on the upturned fingertips of his right hand only to flip his wrist at the last moment and throw it down.
His behavior, however, is equally as undeniably negative. Confounding, maddening, a chain of self-inflicted screw-ups, senseless altercations, childish decision-making and outright selfishness.
Google “Andray Blatche” and “trouble.” Before you can finish typing “trouble,” “trouble again” pops up.
There are hard-headed players who enter the league too young, too ill-equipped to handle the sudden wealth and freewheeling lifestyle, or are simply too stubborn, and never materialize. Phoenix’s Michael Beasley is well down that road and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins may be, too.
For some, the light bulb eventually comes on. For others, it never does. Blatche, in his first season with the Brooklyn Nets, is standing at that career crossroads. And why not hope for a so-far feel-good story to continue that way on Christmas, when Blatche, granted new life in the league, and his recently wobbly Nets play host to the Boston Celtics (Noon ET, ESPN)?
“I’m wiser, definitely wiser,” Blatche said last week during a telephone interview. “Just more open-minded today. Back then I didn’t have my priorities straight.”
Blatche is averaging 11.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg and 49.8 percent shooting in 21.0 minutes as a valued reserve. His per-36 numbers have soared to career-best levels of 19.8 points and 10.3 rebounds.
But, there’s also been signs that Blatche still doesn’t get it. After the Nets’ home opener, Blatche ran out of gas and thought it’d be a good idea to share his misadventure via Twitter. While an empty tank is no a crime, it’s not exactly a sign of staying on top of things. Putting it on Twitter didn’t do much to enhance his reputation.
A few weeks later, as his old Washington Wizards were in midst of a long losing streak to start the season, Blatche ribbed the club that drafted him and signed him to an extension in interviews and on Twitter. He said the Wizards, who drafted him in the second round and signed him to an extension despite numerous red flags, didn’t support him and “they tried to end me.”
So the ending to this story, happy or sad, is far from told.
“It was a reality check,” Blatche said. “I almost lost something that I love doing, so you can say it was a wake-up call.”
Blatche isn’t talking about the Wizards surrendering by using the amnesty clause to rid themselves of Blatche, even with all that talent to still to be mined and with $23 million over three seasons still to be paid.
“There was no doubt in my mind that [being amnestied] was going to happen,” Blatche said. “So it was more of just getting myself ready for the next stage of whatever was going to happen.”
Only nothing happened. Blatche’s phone didn’t ring. July, August, nothing.
“Oh yeah,” Blatche said. “During the summer, I didn’t get no phone calls.”
The only ringing Blatche heard was his his alarm clock jolting him out of an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar condo in an unfamiliar city. He was up by 8 a.m. each day and at 8:30 sharp, Blatche stepped into Houston’s sticky morning air to see John Lucas waiting for him.
Lucas, ex-NBA player and coach, is a former drug addict who has guided numerous players back on the straight and narrow. He wanted to help the 6-foot-11, one-time prodigy rescue the career he’s dragging through the gutter.
“I met him our last home game in D.C.,” Blatche said. “We had a meeting and he talked to me and said, ‘listen, I’ve been where you’re at right now.’ Basically that I can help you, get your body back right, and get your game tuned up to get you back playing. I believed him basically.”
Lucas put Blatche through rigorous workouts on the basketball court, in the weight room and on the track. He enforced nutrition rules and as the summer wore on Blatche’s bloated physique firmed up.
Nets coach Avery Johnson lives outside of Houston in the offseason. It might be the only reason Blatche is playing in the NBA this season.
“I think it’s well documented that I worked him out before the season at my home outside of Houston and I talked to John Lucas about him, and I think for me on the court, I’m not surprised,” Johnson said. “Blatche is talented. He’s a multi-offensive player. He can pass, dribble and shoot. He can play in the low post, he can play at the high post, so he’s talented offensively and he’s learning more and more how to play in our system and with his teammates.
“I will say off the court, I’m pleased because the reputation that he came in here with, I haven’t seen it,” Johnson said. “I told him when I signed him that it was going to be a clean slate. I gave him about 10 or 12 different things that we need to focus on and what’s important to me, and he hasn’t broken one rule. He’s been early, he eats right, he works out hard, so I don’t anticipate having any problems with Blatche because he wants to be good, he wants to be coached, but he understands that we have rules and he knows what I expect from him.”
The player who fought his ex-Wizards teammate JaVale McGee outside a nightclub, propositioned a prostitute that was actually a cop, introduced “Lapdance Tuesdays” to the NBA and embarrassed himself with an inglorious attempt to secure a triple-double in a game, signed a one-year, non-guaranteed contract with Brooklyn in September.
“In general, he knows what time I want him on the bus, he knows on the road, even if we have practice, he’s knows he’s probably going to have to get in an extra workout if we need him to,” Johnson said. “If we have a day off, some of the players have a day off, that may not mean a day off for him. My point is, he’s been very, very coachable and he really wants to be good. I’ve been pleased with that.”
Well, not so much with the public taunting and teasing of his former club. Blatche said he was only having fun and speaking his mind.
“That was a no-no. You won’t hear that again,” Johnson said. “Yep, you will not hear that again. We’re not going to deal with that anymore.”
All things considered, the Nets are getting their money’s worth this season. Blatche said he wants to re-sign with Brooklyn, to re-pay the franchise for giving him a chance.
There’s still a whole lot of season to play to see how Blatche handles himself. The Nets will need more proof that the light bulb is on, and that Blatche will be a baaaaaad man in the only interpretation that really matters.