Andray Blatche was still in his uniform.
Long after the Wizards lost their season-opener to the New Jersey Nets, 90-84, Blatche sat dejectedly at his locker, unsure how his team had managed to let a 21-point lead in the first half slip away.
It was a lead built on team basketball, aggressive defense and unselfish plays on offense.
It was also a lead that slipped away in the second, third and fourth quarters as each member of the Wizards tried to do a little bit more, each at the expense of the team concept.
Wizards head coach Flip Saunders was asked if it was a lack of trust. He framed it differently.
“Is it trust, or is it, ‘I think that I can make a play to get us going again,’ and you try to do it individually,” Wizards head coach Flip Saunders said. “In our league, you can’t do it, unless you’re one of the elite players. We don’t have anyone that’s at that elite status right now like a Deron Williams, that can just take the game over, that can just take the game over whether he’s scoring, passing, setting people up.”
Blatche, who finished with 11 points – only one in the fourth quarter – along with nine rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a pair of turnovers, said Saunders must’ve meant that comment to be about him.
“He probably was talking about me,” Blatche said. “Because for the simple fact that I said that I need the ball in the paint to be effective. You can't keep having me pick-and-pop, and shooting jump shots. Give me the ball in the paint. That's where I'm most effective at. I've been saying that since training camp: I need the ball in the paint. I don't want to be the pick-and-pop guy that I used to be. It's not working for me. The double-team came, I kicked it out, we made good plays. I'm not saying the offense has to run through me, but I prefer to be in the paint.”
Blatche was asked further about the Wizards’ strategy down the stretch.
“The plays we were running, it was our typical plays,” Blatche said. “But in a situation like this we need to make them pay by throwing it down to me. If they're going to double-team me, let me kick it out and we swing it around and somebody get an open 3. It's all about rotation and getting open shots, not making it hard on ourselves.”
He later reiterated his frustration on Twitter.
Despite finishing with nine rebounds, Blatche only pulled down one at the offensive end of the floor. Kris Humphries and Damion James, who combined for 30 rebounds total, had a total of 11 offensive boards. As a team, the Wizards were outrebounded, 58-39.
Asked about Blatche’s complaints, John Wall wasn’t sure what he was saying.
“I don't know. In practice he gets the ball on pick and pops, and in practice he gets the ball on the blocks,” Wall said. “It's wherever the play is called, that's where the ball has to go. That’s my job, to get everybody in their position and get the ball where it supposed to be.”
Both Saunders and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis have talked about Blatche’s growth and maturity as a team leader this season. In my season preview, I wrote that he shared that duty with Wall, and he welcomed the Verizon Center crowd before the game, telling them that he was the team captain.
But his unhappiness afterward does not set a good precedent, particularly following only the first game of the season.
“Dray's trying to be a leader this year,” teammate Nick Young said. “Things get to him. You gotta let things bounce off us quick and get back into the game. I say we gonna learn from this game, hopefully.”