Andray back to NBA?

Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Gilas naturalized player Andray Blatche is now a free agent after winding up a five-month, $2.5 Million stint with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association and at least three NBA teams are rumored to be in the queue for his services.

Blatche, 28, played his farewell game in China last Feb. 1, leading Xinjiang to a 129-103 win over Foshan with 35 points and 15 rebounds. The victory raised the Flying Tigers’ record to 25-13 but the ninth place finish was a rung shy of the eight-team cut for the playoffs. Blatche ended up averaging 31.1 points, 14.6 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 2.8 steals in 38 games. He shot 62.9 percent from the field, 37.2 percent from beyond the arc and 77.7 percent from the stripe. His single-game highs were 47 points, 29 rebounds and 10 assists.

Blatche is reportedly back in the US where he will evaluate the offers on the table. Brooklyn is rumored to be interested in re-enlisting the 6-11 forward because Mirza Teletovic is out for the season and Kevin Garnett’s minutes are dwindling. There’s a roster spot vacant in the Nets’ 15-man lineup. Blatche could receive a two to four-year offer from the Nets as a returning player and with nine years of NBA experience, his maximum annual salary would be $17.7 Million. The Nets are in ninth place in the Eastern Conference with a 21-28 record and Blatche could push Brooklyn back into the playoff picture.

Memphis and Miami are also looking into Blatche’s availability. The Grizzlies are second in the West and if Blatche signs, he’ll be assured of a playoff spot. But Blatche will play limited minutes behind either Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph. Miami is where Blatche lives in the offseason and coach Erik Spoelstra has Filipino roots. The Heat, however, may be rethinking its position on Blatche since Hassan Whiteside’s emergence as a solid frontliner alongside Chris Bosh.

Although Blatche hasn’t played in the NBA this season, his salary of $8.4 Million is intact as an amnesty cut of the Washington Wizards. The Wizards’ commitment ends this season, leaving Blatche open for a new NBA contract.

Newlyappointed Gilas head coach Tab Baldwin recently said Blatche is the top priority in forming the national team for the FIBA Asia Championships in Hunan, China, on Sept. 23-Oct. 3. Blatche’s commitment with the SBP was to play at the FIBA World Cup in Spain and the Asian Games in Incheon last year. He made waves in Spain, emerging as the tournament’s most efficient player, top rebounder and second leading scorer. A quirk in the eligibility rules, however, prevented Blatche from playing in Incheon. Although he remains a naturalized player and is prevented from suiting up for any other country under the FIBA’s one-nation-in-a-lifetime rule, there will be a renegotiation of his contract to continue seeing action for Gilas.

Former Gilas head coach Chot Reyes said he expects Blatche to rejoin Gilas. “Last time we had contact was when I announced my retirement (from Gilas),” said Reyes. “I don’t see any reason why he won’t play.” The FIBA Asia Championships will end just as the NBA preseason opens this year.

Gilas standout Gabe Norwood said he hasn’t spoken to Blatche lately. “Last time we chatted was more about how he was liking China,” said Norwood. SBP deputy executive director for international affairs Butch Antonio said he hopes Blatche will play for Gilas in the qualifying tournament for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

“I know he’s looking forward to playing for Gilas again,” said Antonio. “In Spain, we even told each other that we look forward to working together. From what I know, Jimmy (Alapag), JD (Jared Dillinger) and Gabe are in touch with him.”

Alapag said he’s not aware of Blatche’s plans now that he’s a free agent. “I haven’t spoken to Andray in a while,” said the newlyappointed Gilas assistant coach and Talk ‘N’ Text team manager. “I know he’s just finished a great season in China. Not sure where he’ll sign in the NBA but I’ve read Brooklyn is interested in bringing him back. I don’t know yet the details of whether or not he’ll rejoin Gilas for FIBA Asia in September.”

Dillinger said he, too, hasn’t heard of confirmed developments regarding Blatche. “I only text him every now and then,” he added.

But one thing’s for sure, Norwood, Alapag and Dillinger want Blatche back in a Philippine jersey.

Baldwin said there’s “nothing definitive” about Blatche rejoining Gilas. “He’s obviously our priority,” said Baldwin. “But until he signs the contract to play for Gilas again, we can’t be sure. Right now, Andray himself can’t be sure of what to do. He’s going back to the NBA and we won’t know if his new NBA team will allow him to play for Gilas until they sit down and talk about it. I’ve discussed this situation with the SBP. It’s not an easy thing to naturalize a player because that goes through Congress. But I think we should start thinking about a back-up plan.” 


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