Very quietly throughout the season, Andray Blatche has had something of a rebirth.
Often seen as a goofball in Washington's me-first locker room with Nick Young and JaVale McGee (it should be noted all three have thrived after leaving the Wizards organization and each other's company for more veteran teams), Blatche was among the high volume scorers on Washington's team that the organization felt it needed to shed to move forward with John Wall and Bradley Beal as centerpieces.
That led Washington to amnesty Andray Blatche and the remaining $23.4 million owed to him in the next three years. Blatche cleared amnesty waivers and signed a minimum contract with the Nets.
Blatche has had a strong year, averaging 10.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in 18.9 minutes per game. He is shooting 50.9 percent from the floor and has truly embraced a supporting role off the bench. He has been a great help for Brooklyn and is preparing to enter the Playoffs for the first time.
More importantly, he has repaired some of his reputation, proving he can contribute to a winning team. So what happens now that he is set to become a free agent this summer? Is someone going to pay him? Where will he want to go?
The 26-year-old center still has a lot to contribute. And he wants to contribute for the Nets.
The problem for the Nets is that they are already capped out thanks to those big contracts given out this summer and they do not hold his Bird Rights. That means Brooklyn cannot go over the cap to sign him.
This is where that $20 million over the next three years (including this year) comes in. Blatche is getting two paychecks right now. If he cares about playing for the Nets, money is not his issue, as he tells Mike Mazzeo of ESPN New York:
When I become a free agent, I'm going to call (GM) Billy King and say, 'Billy, listen man, I need 100 million to keep me here.' But seriously, I'm going to call my agent and see what's best for me and my family.
Money's not the (biggest thing). It's more I just want to go somewhere where I can play. I want to play as many minutes as possible.
If Blatche is willing to take less money, he certainly could rejoin the Nets. What he decides to do and what teams are willing to offer him will have to wait until July.
What Blatche's attitude toward free agency suggests though is that the amnestied players could become something of cheap mercenaries for winning teams if the teams feel they can still contribute and if the player is content with collecting his amnestied paycheck while being a little underpaid.
Few NBA teams actually took advantage of the amnesty clause. And the players amnestied were largely injured or over the hill.
Gilbert Arenas has failed to latch on anywhere else. Baron Davis played a while for the Knicks but was never quite as successful after the Cavaliers dropped him. Chauncey Billups had part of his amnestied salary picked up when the Clippers signed him. Brandon Roy had a failed comeback with Minnesota (but blame injuries for both his amnesty and derailing his comeback).
All those players came in the first year of the amnesty and were largely done to clean out injured players and relative "dead weight."
The second year saw some more strategy by the players after their amnesty.
Elton Brand left Philadelphia and joined Dallas on a small contract. He still will make $16.1 million this year from the Sixers to complete his contract. The Mavericks waived Brendan Haywood and he has found a very successful season in Charlotte, although he is not competing for the postseason.
The Rockets waived the final three years of his contract and he has been a big contributor for the struggling Suns.
What is missing is that Blatche will be the only amnestied player to play for a Playoff team. He was is the only, what I will call, "amnesty mercenary." Blatche is making two paychecks right now and playing really well. There may not be another player like him.
If more teams use their one-time amnesty provision though, there could be more players taking this tact from Blatche and be willing to take less money to play for a contender.
New York Knicks
Los Angeles Clippers