It’s Time for the Miami Heat to Pursue Andray Blatche

Dwight Howard didn’t get traded to Miami. Greg Oden probably isn’t going to play in 2012-13. Mehmet Okur appears destined to return to his native Turkey. And the Heat passed up the chance to wait out Samuel Dalembert.

The Heat still needs a center.

In the future lottery-protected first round pick acquired from Philadelphia, the Heat has an asset with which to try to address the issue in trade. The problem is that it’s the Heat’s only significant trade asset. The team can’t offer a first round pick of its own until 2017 at the earliest. And its second round picks are just about worthless.

The biggest issue, however, is that any potential trade requires the Heat to trade away matching contracts. And the contracts of thirtysomethings Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony – the team’s most likely trade candidates, players the Heat should be overjoyed to move free of charge simply for tax purposes – are all toxic; each likely holding negative trade value. Any value the Philly pick would have to a trade partner would be more than offset by the toxic Heat contract it would be required to take on for salary matching purposes. Why, then, would any trade partner offer anything of value in return?

A trade simply isn’t very likely.

And that means that if small-ball doesn’t work, the Heat will find itself in a bind.

Haslem is not ideally suited to play alongside Chris Bosh on the front line. Anthony’s limited offensive repertoire and lack of rebounding prowess create as many problems as his presence on defense solves.

Chris “Birdman” Andersen would be an ideal fit for what the Heat are or should be trying to do — as a shock-blocker, two-way rebounder, finisher at the rim and, perhaps most importantly, a tremendous jolt of energy — but he is currently facing bizarre and serious criminal allegations. Signing a player under such a murky investigation is probably not going to pass muster for the Heat, at least  not until more details emerge that support what we suspect, that Andersen is purely a victim of some type of extortion scheme.

It’s time for the Heat to get a little creative. It’s time to take a risk.

It’s time to consider Andray Blatche. 

For seven years in D.C., Blatche tantalized with his unique blend of size (6 feet 11 inches), skill and athleticism, only to repeatedly disappoint with his poor work ethic and off-court issues. He has a history of missteps. His commitment and maturity have been called into question, for reasons which include a 2007 arrest for allegedly soliciting sex from an undercover police officer, a 2008 arrest for reckless driving and driving with a suspended license, a pair of 2010 suspensions for being belligerent with the coaching staff in January and brawling with teammate JaVale McGree outside a Washington nightclub in December, a 2011 decision to host “Lap Dance Tuesday” at a Miami nightclub, and a prolonged issue with fitness.

His conduct on the court was, at times, equally frustrating. In his worst moments, Blatche combined terrible shot selection with indifferent defense.

Things got particularly heated last season. Blatche returned to the court after the protracted lockout out of shape, unmotivated and defiant – so much so, in fact, that the team and its fan base breathed a collective slow and satisfying sigh of relief when he missed the entire month of February with a strained left calf. After an ignominious two-week return to the court, he was then benched for the rest of the season for “conditioning issues,” a form of banishment designed to let the Wizards forget the ridiculous contract extension they gave him two seasons prior – one they ate this summer by using their amnesty clause to shed the remaining $23 million of his contract off the team’s salary cap figure.

It all sounds rather ugly. But there’s reason to hope that things can get better for Blatche. The issues he has had were all with Washington – not exactly an environment conducive to good mental health. The Wizards’ locker room was perhaps the worst place for an immature player in need of guidance. Their personality was defined for years by Gilbert Arenas, whose locker-room gunplay nearly wrecked the franchise.

The Wizards have since suffered from a lack of overall talent and a morbid culture of losing that has prevented the growth of its developing players. The players with the most heart don’t have enough skill. The players with the most skill don’t have enough heart.  And neither the coaching staff nor the management seems to have any semblance of control. There’s simply no accountability.

Leaving Washington seems to alleviate the problem. Last season, JaVale McGee went from selfish and immature to a defensive stalwart worthy of a massive new contract in the more structured Denver Nugget organization. Under George Karl’s leadership, McGee has gotten more focused and, in turn, his level of play has elevated.

Perhaps Blatche can do the same with the Heat, particularly with all that Pat Riley has to dangle – a structured environment that includes mentorship from the likes of Alonzo Mourning and Bob McAdoo, a world of experience in helping its big men get back into shape, and a major role (potentially even a starting role at center) on a title contender if he does just that.

Yes. When properly motivated and well disciplined, Blatche can be that good.

For all of his issues in Washington, there were also flashes of enormous talent. In a torrid 32-game stretch to close the 2009-10 season, Blatche averaged 22.1 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting 48.5% from the field. He went on to average 16.8 points and 8.2 rebounds during the 2010-11 season. That’s 96 consecutive games of solid on-court production prior to last season’s lockout-induced disaster.

There’s a real player in there, underneath all the baggage.

Blatche has never had trouble making his presence felt near the rim. If there’s any hope for redemption, though, it’ll be through improvements in his jump shot. He’s not overly explosive, so he leans rather heavily on it. In that respect, Blatche is truly an odd case. He has the range. He’ll hit a contested, off-balance 17-footer on one possession but then he’ll miss badly on a pull up opportunity off the dribble.

Due to a lack of talented teammates, he’s been consistently miscast as a go-to guy and, in turn, has struggled to create quality looks. That won’t be an issue in Miami. His jumpers will often be uncontested, and he’ll get more touches closer to the basket. He could, in fact, conceivably create a nice role for himself as a double digit scorer and rebounder simply by positioning himself never more than a few feet from the basket – which would lead you to believe that an in-shape Blatche could have the best shooting efficiency and the best per-48 minute rebounding numbers of his career as a member of the Heat.

His defensive ability is more difficult to prognosticate, given that he’s never put forth any degree of effort on that end. He’s certainly not a dominant post defender. Few players around the league are. He often gets backed down by stronger players. But, at his ideal playing weight, perhaps something around 250 pounds, he does have a 15-or-so-pound advantage in bulk over incumbent starting center Chris Bosh, who is better suited at power forward anyway. Blatche also has good length, good lateral quickness and quick hands to guard the perimeter, though he doesn’t have the best instincts.

For a Heat team that craves versatility, Blatche provides plenty of it – capable of playing both power forward and center. He’d also be live in the Heat offense, seemingly a prerequisite for consideration these days.

He’s a risk to be sure. But there are ways to mitigate that risk. He’s been passed on, beaten down, humbled, and is now just looking for a place to resume his career. He’s already collecting $23 million over the next three years, so money isn’t an issue. His asking price will never be lower. A two-year minimum salary contract, the first of which is unguaranteed and the second of which is subject to a team option, would be ideal.

Consider the implications.

If he causes trouble, or if he underperforms, the Heat would be able to simply waive him at virtually no cost.

If he exceeds expectations, the Heat will have just identified a major rotation contributor, perhaps even a starter, for the next two years – a 26-year old player (next week) in the prime of his career.

That seems like the type of low-risk, high-reward proposition that the Heat, in its dire financial situation, at this point in the off-season, desperately needs. Tack on the high-energy, high-flying, high-percentage-shooting Chris Andersen, on a single-season make-good contract, and the Heat will have rounded out the perfect post-title free agent offseason.

Andray Blatche and Chris Andersen. Two imperfect players. Two imperfect personalities. Two very skilled players with two very different playing styles to be utilized in two very different ways. But, potentially, two perfect fits for a Heat team looking to shore up its frontcourt depth with equal parts versatility and flexibility. And, perhaps, two perfect replacements for two bloated, tax-unfriendly contracts that the Heat could, or should, seek to move in the months ahead.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *