Despite a winless run by his adopted Philippine national team, Andray Blatche has easily been one of the standout performers at this week’s FIBA World Cup in Spain—first in rebounds, fourth in points and second to none in sheer associative intrigue.
All the while, the polarizing forward remains in NBA limbo, still without so much as an offer sheet a full two months into the league’s free-agency period.
The reasons, it seems, are as complicated as the man himself.
By most accounts, Blatche’s last two years with the Brooklyn Nets were his most efficient to date, particularly the 2012-13 season, wherein Blatche authored career highs in player efficiency rating (21.9), true shooting percentage (55 percent), total rebounding percentage (16 percent) and win shares per 48 minutes (.153).
But despite the promising production, Blatche’s Brooklyn run wasn’t without the kind of off-court incidents that marred the versatile forward’s eight years with the Washington Wizards, the most high-profile run-in being a 2013 police questioning stemming from an alleged rape which Blatche apparently witnessed.
It’s that kind of baggage of which teams are understandably wary. That he hasn’t so much as received an offer to rival the meager two-year, $2.5 million tender he netted in Brooklyn goes to show just how toxic Blatche has become.
It's a far cry from the promise Blatche exuded when he was selected by the Wizards with the 49th overall pick in the 2005 NBA draft. Even then, Blatche's game possessed a poise and maturity that belied his age. To be sure, it's a skill set—deft on the low block, enviable vision and a smooth jumper to boot—that compelled the Nets to take their flier in the first place.
For the most part, Blatche didn't disappoint; as Brook Lopez's principal backup, Blatche helped anchor a Nets second unit that emerged as one of the best in the NBA. When Lopez sustained a season-ending foot injury last December, Blatche, together with standout rookie Mason Plumlee, answered the call.
Now, after putting the finishing touches on a two-year renaissance, Blatche is once again trying to prove to would-be suitors that his best days—and his best-behaved ones as well—lie ahead.
Not that the lanky big has fallen off the NBA radar completely, of course. The Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson recently reported the Miami Heat—still picking up the pieces following LeBron James’ departure—have made “preliminary inquiries” into the forward, along with fellow veteran Jason Maxiell.
At this point in Blatche’s career, it’s no surprise teams would proceed with caution, particularly after reports from ESPN New York’s Mike Mazzeo that general manager Billy King—miffed, perhaps, at Blatche having opted out of the final year of his three-year contract—wasn’t interested in bringing the scoring forward back into the fold.
Indeed, even if Blatche ends up inking an NBA deal, it’s unclear whether he can garner the kind of payday the stats would seem to warrant. The potential distractions are simply too dire, and the PR headaches too throbbing, for many teams to offer anything more than an unguaranteed deal.
This makes Blatche’s FIBA participation all the more important. Say what you will about the Syracuse native’s propensity for poor decisions, but aligning himself with the Philippine national team was the smartest thing Blatche could’ve done basketball-wise.
In taking his talents to the international stage, Blatche isn’t merely showing off for potential NBA suitors; he’s giving himself options the world over, ones that could be more lucrative than anything coming down the pike stateside.
However, as Grantland’s Rafe Bartholomew recently wrote, Blatche’s FIBA performance is a weapon with more than one edge:
It’s possible that performing well in Spain will impress NBA front offices and help Blatche, who’s currently an unsigned free agent, land a better contract before next season. It’s also possible that GMs will look at his play at the World Cup and say, ‘That’s nice, but I’m not sure how Blatche playing point-forward and averaging 14 rebounds per game on a team with two 6-foot-5 power forwards and three sub-6-foot point guards translates to our league.’
Bartholomew raises an interesting point: In joining a team as flawed as the Philippines, Blatche risks coming off as a shameless stat-padder, a guy whose strategic endgame is so obviously transparent you wonder how his agent didn’t put the kibosh on it in the first place.
Then again, desperate times call for desperate measures. If Blatche believes his only path back to the NBA lies in proving his mettle as a reliable leader, even on a team on the brink of bowing winless on the world stage, then that’s the path he should take.
To his credit, Blatche has approached his stint with the Philippines as more than just an opportunity to guarantee NBA bullion, in the process endearing himself to a team in one of the most basketball-crazy countries anywhere in the world.
“Coming in, I had my doubts about Andray,” Chot Reyes, the Philippines’ coach, told Bartholowmew. “I thought he would be always away from us, but he’s actually thrown himself into the process. When people saw that he was a legitimate NBA player who was willing to be just one of the guys…there was a palpable sigh of relief.”
Blatche is bound to field an NBA offer or two sooner or later. Whether that offer trumps what Blatche might be able to fetch elsewhere on the international market—as the unquestioned star of the Philippine Basketball Association, perhaps—is a different question.
At 28 years old, Blatche still has plenty of gas left in the tank. Just don’t blame NBA teams for worrying about Blatche tossing in the lit match himself.
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