Josh Newman, SNYNets.comEAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Andray Blatche tweaked his back on Wednesday morning and sat out the second half of practice as a precautionary measure. Afterward, the Nets officially declared that he was suffering from back spasms.
Both Blatche and Brooklyn Nets head coach Avery Johnson said the injury was no big deal. Coach Johnson also said he thought that Blatche would be available to practice on Thursday, while Blatche said that he hoped to be back for Wednesday's second practice. Fortunately, the big man was able to return and participate in Wednesday afternoon's practice session, so clearly, the injury isn't very serious. Still, the true test will be to see how it responds tomorrow and Friday.
Although the back issue appears to be just a minor hiccup, it shows that this Nets experiment with the amnestied, enigmatic 6-foot-11 26-year-old is no sure thing.
Put bluntly and simply, a team amnesties a player when it feels that it's in its best interest to cut ties—despite still being on the hook to pay the player's salary. In other words, teams give unwanted players the balance of their contract to simply go away. When the Washington Wizards cut Blatche, they still owed him $23 million, and now, they must pay him every cent.
That's the decision the Wizards made back on July 17. The power forward's talent, athleticism and unquestioned potential were finally outweighed by a bevy off-court and conditioning issues. Blatche was amnestied and told he could have all of his money (paid out over three years), and go away.
Now, Blatche finds himself with the Brooklyn Nets on a veteran's minimum contract, but with a clean slate and a fresh chance to salvage his career and make good on the potential that earned him that lucrative extension from Wizards' general manager, Ernie Grunfeld.
"This is a big opportunity for me," Blatche said. "I'm excited to be here and to have this chance... I'm trying make the best out of it."
Blatche is in training camp on a non-guaranteed deal, but is a lock to make the roster as Johnson said on Tuesday that Blatche is currently his backup center behind Brook Lopez.
That Johnson has gone as far as to name Blatche a rotation player is a clear indication that the Nets coach is pleased, at least for now. This past Monday, on media day, Johnson said that the Nets thought Blatche had enormous potential. And while he didn't go as far as to call him "a project," he made it clear that Blatche had to prove himself and earn his keep.
"With him, we don't want to give him any unrealistic goals," he said on Monday. "But we want to give him every opportunity to succeed."
So, although Blatche has done well thus far, he will need to continue to do so.
In terms of his conditioning, though, Blatche is off to a good start. He currently weights about 265 pounds, down from the 285 he weighed in at when his Nets tenure began. That 265 is about 5-7 pounds away from where Johnson wants him to be, but it's still a far cry from March of last season. That's when the Wizards shut Blatche down indefinitely and listed the reason as 'conditioning.'
"I told him when we met for the first time, it’s a clean slate, and he has pretty much a program that I have him on specifically," Johnson said Tuesday after practice. "Physically, there are some things, mentally, we’ve talked about, basketball on the court, off the court, he has his program. All he has to do is follow his program, keep me happy and then he’ll be playing."
There are some out there that feel that if Blatche puts his troubles behind him, he may be the steal of the offseason. Although the Wizards are paying Blatche's hefty salary, the Nets will pay him just the minimum salary of $1.14 million this season.
And that's a bargain considering that there is proof that Blatche can be effective when dialed in. Over the final 32 games of the 2009-10 season, he averaged 22.1 points and 8.3 rebounds, and that helped land him the five-year, $35 million contract extension from the Wizards. In 2010-2011, he averaged career-highs of 16.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
In the final nine games of the 2010-2011 season, he averaged 22.8 points and 10 rebounds, including a 36 point, 19 rebound effort against the Cleveland Cavaliers on April 1, 2011.
Now, as he rounds into shape and eyes a fresh start, Blatche will almost certainly see the floor behind Lopez. The power forward position will feature the re-signed Kris Humphries as the starter, while former Euroleague star Mirza Teletovic will be his primary reserve. Coach Johnson indicated Tuesday that Blatche may also slide over to power forward at times if need be. So he will certainly have an opportunity to play—if he stays ready.
"He’s had some rough moments in the NBA, but people forget about the good moments," Deron Williams said of Blatche on Tuesday. "There's no doubt he can score, he can rebound, he’s very versatile, he knows how to pass. I think he’s got a good group around him, a lot of veteran presence where he can just go out there and play basketball."
For his career, Blatche has averages of 9.9 points and 5.4 rebounds over 409 games.
Josh Newman is SNYNets.com’s Field Reporter. Follow him on Twitter for up to the minute news and banter on all things related to the Brooklyn Nets and the NBA.