It’s worth wondering why Andray Blatche is without an NBA contract in the middle of August. He’s 27 years old, stands 6’11”, and is coming off a season in which he averaged 11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds in 22.2 minutes per game with an 18.8 PER for a Nets team that went to the conference semifinals. He’s an unrestricted free agent, without the encumbrance of restricted free agency that’s holding up deals for Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe and without the strong leads on a job that Shawn Marion has. He’s not considering retirement like Ray Allen. There are questions about his character, dating back to his pre-amnesty days with the Wizards and reverberating most recently in a report about the Heat’s longstanding reservations about his maturity and behavior. Another dispatch asserted that Blatche’s midseason absence this past year was a de facto suspension meted out by then-coach Jason Kidd, a punishment that left Nets management impressed with the coach. But such trouble has not kept lesser players out of the league.
There could easily be more than meets the eye to Blatche’s locker room issues, but those reports may also be the extent of it. His continued free agency might stem simply from a demand for more money than the market is bearing. He turned down a player option to stay with the Nets for a salary of nearly $1.438MM, slightly more than the minimum, so he probably envisioned a raise, which wouldn’t be easy to find at this stage of free agency. He’s been linked to a few teams in some form or fashion this summer, dating back to a mid-June report that he and the Pelicans had mutual interest, though a follow-up indicated that Blatche was the only party eyeing such an arrangement. Around the start of July, Blatche had apparently been telling many around the league that he would end up in New Orleans, but there’s been no movement toward that end.
The Raptors were reportedly to have met with Blatche about a week or so into free agency, but Toronto appears to have moved on. There was a report that he would work out along with a few other big men of note for the Clippers, but agent Andy Miller quickly dismissed that as false. Whether or not the Clippers enter the picture legitimately at any point, it seems a reunion with the Nets isn’t forthcoming. Blatche was the only one of the team’s free agents to whom GM Billy King declined to reach out at the start of free agency, a strong signal that there’s little, if any, interest from the club.
That might have more to do with the emergence of Mason Plumlee and the expected return to health of Brook Lopez than any shortcoming of Blatche’s. Kidd is gone, having jumped ship to Milwaukee, so any clash between Blatche and his coach is no longer germane. Brooklyn had its greatest success last season playing small ball, so an abundance of big men probably isn’t what the team has in mind.
Blatche’s minutes and production increased slightly this past season over 2012/13, his first in Brooklyn, though his PER and per-minute output went a hair in the other direction. He’s still at an age that suggests he’s entering his prime, if he’s not already there, and he still has a few more years before any precipitous decline should start to set in. He’s not the shot blocker he was in his early 20s, swatting fewer shots per game last season than he did in any season except for when he only saw 6.0 MPG as a rookie. Still, his defensive win shares have exceeded his offensive win shares every season of his career, demonstrating his impact when the other team has the ball. The Nets were slightly better defensively when Blatche was off the court than when he was on it in each of the past two seasons in terms of points allowed per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com, but each year the team’s net rating went up when he played.
The 49th overall pick from 2005 seems to be a plus on the floor, so unless teams have universally decided his off-court reputation is simply too much to bear, which doesn’t seem likely, there are certain to be NBA teams in touch with Miller as the summer wanes. The Lakers joined a list of 11 other teams I recently outlined as being limited to paying the minimum salary for this coming season, but while Blatche’s options for a non-minimum deal are dwindling, they aren’t gone yet.
There’s no urgency for either Blatche or teams to come to an agreement with training camp still about six weeks off, and as the Paul George injury showed, a need could crop up at any time to spur the market for someone who can fill it. The unresolved situations of Bledsoe and — for Blatche in particular — Monroe loom over part of the landscape. So, perhaps a team like the Hawks, who have cap space and have been linked to Monroe, could look to Blatche should the Pistons big man end up elsewhere. It was a little surprising to see his agent so quickly deny the Clippers rumor, so maybe there’s traction with other teams that such news would jeopardize, though that’s just my speculation. In any case, Blatche probably would find a guaranteed minimum-salary deal to sign this week if he wanted to, but he’s probably best advised to continue to wait until the pace of the market quickens and teams are more aggressively filling their rosters for the season ahead.