Much-Improved Blatche Could Head NBA All-Underpaid Team
He's put up some very big numbers since the All-Star break, but Andray Blatche's paycheck will remain small. That is, by NBA standards.
While lists of the top 10 most overpaid players are quite popular (hello, Jermaine O'Neal), those of the most underpaid aren't as prevalent. One reason is because instant stars on rookie contracts are always going to be considered underpaid when compared to the rest of the NBA.
But throw out those on rookie contracts, and who might in future years be the billboard star for underpaid players?
Try Blatche, the Washington power forward who has averaged 24.4 points and 9.5 rebounds in 16 games since the All-Star Break. He's making $3 million this season, and has two years left on a five-year, $15 million deal.
"I look at the situation as being underpaid,'' Blatche, 23, said in an interview with FanHouse. "I understand why I got the contract that I got and I make the best of it.''
Blatche slipped into the second round of the 2005 draft after being taken directly out of high school by the Wizards. He became a restricted free agent in the summer of 2007 after averaging 3.2 points and 2.7 rebounds in his first two seasons.
Although the 6-foot-11 Blatche, then 20, was showing great potential, there was no reason for the Wizards to bid against themselves. It would take another team to put down an offer sheet for Blatche to really get some immediate big bucks.
Then on Aug. 2, 2007, Blatche was charged with sexual solicitation in Washington after having dealings with a female police officer working undercover. Although the solicitation charge eventually would be dropped after Blatche followed a court order to attend a day-long seminar offered by prosecutors for men who solicit prostitutes, the incident hampered Blatche's negotiating power significantly.
"I went for the long deal for security,'' Blatche said of later that summer signing the five-year contract for about half of what a player would get for a deal using the mid-level exception. "It was either that or a one-year deal for close to nothing. I was like, 'OK, I'll just take it.'''
The Wizards have handed out some crazy contracts before, but they sure got plenty of value with this one. Blatche has regrets in locking himself up for so long rather than having attempted to more quickly become an unrestricted free agent, which could have happened after his fourth season.
"Yeah, I do,'' he said. "But it's already done. It was already in the works [at the time of his arrest]. I just have to live with it ... Who would have known this situation where I would [now] be the key go-to guy?''
Nobody figured that as recently as last month in a Washington season devastated by guard Gilbert Arenas being lost in December for what turned out to be a season-long suspension for bringing guns into the locker room (low-profile guard Javaris Crittenton received the same penalty). With the Wizards going nowhere, they dealt their top three frontcourt players between All-Star Weekend and a few days after.
Blatche suddenly was giving a big role. And he hasn't disappointed, having raised his scoring average from 8.9 to 12.7 in a month.
"He's come a long way,'' said Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony, who while attending Syracuse, watched Blatche play for Henninger High School in Syracuse, N.Y., as a sophomore in 2002-03, and didn't come away impressed. "He just got an opportunity after they traded [Antawn] Jamison, Caron [Butler] and Brendan [Haywood]. He was the fourth guy [on the front line after those three]. He's surprised everybody. He's surprised the whole league. The more he plays, the more confidence he gets and the better he gets.''
Blatche's role got even bigger when forward Josh Howard was lost for the season with a knee injury shortly after he was one asset acquired in Washington's purge. Wizards coach Flip Saunders now believes Blatche has the ability to average 18 points and nine rebounds next season even if the Wizards bring back Arenas and add some other top players.
For that, the Wizards have Blatche under contract next season for the discount price of $3.26 million and for 2011-12 at $3.52 million. He can't become a free agent until the summer of 2012.
"Definitely next year, if I'm going out and I'm doing the same thing and I become an All-Star player, it's definitely going to bother me a lot because I'm definitely going to feel underpaid and like I'm not being appreciated,'' Blatche said. "But there's nothing I can do about that.''
Looking back, Blatche knows the arrest did nothing to help his negotiating power that summer.
"You learn from your mistakes,'' Blatche said. "It was taken more seriously than it should have been. We just got caught talking to the wrong people. That's what it was all about. We shouldn't have talked to them anyway. That's what happens.''
Blatche has had his name in the news for other off-the-court situations. He was shot in September 2005, just before the start of training camp his rookie season, during an attempted carjacking in Virginia. He missed all of training camp but fully recovered shortly after that.
In June 2008, Blatche was stopped in Virginia on a charge of reckless driving and driving on a suspended license. He was ticketed in his Mercedes for going 86 mph in a 70 mph zone.
Blatche also hasn't always endeared himself to coaches for his work ethic. But Saunders says that's changing.
"He's improved that drastically,'' Saunders said. "He started in the summertime and he worked hard. He's just become more professional in his approach to the game and understanding now that people are counting on him more.
"When you have that responsibility, the question was: Would he accept that responsibility and could he do it on a consistent basis because he's always played a good game and come back with a couple stinkers? And so far he's had a very positive approach [and has been] very coachable.''
Not many stinkers have been seen from Blatche since getting his big chance. He's only scored less than 18 points in one game since the All-Star break, a 13-point effort. While the Wizards are just 4-12 since the break and have dropped nine straight, that hardly can be blamed on Blatche due to their overall scarcity of talent.
Blatche, shooting 49.7 percent from the field, believes he can be a player who regularly puts up 20 points a night in his NBA career.
"It's an opportunity, and I'm taking advantage of the opportunity,'' said Blatche, who suffered a left sprained ankle Tuesday at Denver but is hopeful of not missing a game and playing Friday at Portland. "I feel like, if a person is scoring 24 points a game, he's capable of doing it. It's not like I'm going out and shooting 50 shots a game. I'm shooting a high field-goal percentage. I think I'm capable of [being a regular 20-point scorer].''
Blatche, though, won't be paid like one. At least not until 2012-13.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter@christomasson