Wizards prove to be nothing but pushovers

Federal prosecutors had just released a devastating 61-page document illustrating how the culture of permissiveness could crumble an NBA franchise. Gilbert Arenas(notes) pushed to see how far the Washington Wizards would let him go, and that turned out to be all the way to a felony, all the way probably to jail.

As much as anything, Wizards coach Flip Saunders needed to use the final weeks of this season to restore some semblance of standard and strength to the franchise. They’re losing every night now, playing out the string, and yet he still can’t make a stand. For years, Andray Blatche(notes) has been an underachieving pain in the butt for Washington and he’d never been more belligerent, more thickheaded than on Tuesday night when he refused to re-enter a game.

Andray Blatche earned a public rebuke from Wizards coach Flip Saunders, but no suspension.
(NBAE/ Getty Images)

Blatche should’ve been suspended.

He should be gone now.

“Fifteen years, I’ve never seen anything like it, never,” Saunders said Tuesday night. “He can be pissed at me or whatever, but you never leave your teammates hanging out to dry like that, no matter what, especially when you’ve lost 11 games in a row and you’ve got a chance to win a game. Uncalled for. We’ll deal with it.”

Deal with it? Washington did nothing. They had lost 12 straight games, and they could’ve lost the 13th on Wednesday with or without Blatche. After a bad shot and a defensive lapse Tuesday night in a loss to Charlotte, Saunders brought Blatche back to the bench and tried to coach him. Only, he wouldn’t listen.

Saunders told Blatche he wouldn’t return to the game until he listened to the assistant coaches correct his mistakes. Sam Cassell(notes) and Gene Banks tried, but Blatche bristled.

Yes, the coach should’ve suspended Blatche, sent him home and played the rest of the week without him. Management told the coach it was his call, league sources say. They would’ve gone with a suspension, a benching, whatever Saunders wanted.

The coach backed down, again.

Story of his career.

Story of this franchise.

The message is unmistakable: Anything still goes here. Whatever Blatche had to say about how it was a misunderstanding, please. His reputation as a malingerer is well-earned. He doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt because he’s never earned it in his career. Had Blatche been contrite on Wednesday, had he admitted he was completely out of line, maybe he would’ve merited something less than a suspension. Only, Blatche lashed out and ripped Saunders, calling the coach’s version a “bald-face lie,” even demanding an apology from him.

Essentially, Blatche was given an apology. His coach backed down, walked away and let down the franchise in a way no 23-year-old could ever do. Bad enough the Wizards let so much go with a franchise star in Arenas, but now Blache and his tired, sorry act is going to run roughshod over the organization, too?

Since the Wizards drafted Blatche as an 18-year-old out of high school, this is all he’s ever known with Washington. After 85 games in his career, in which he averaged three points, Washington gave him a five-year, $15 million contract in 2007. He was a complete knucklehead and yet the Wizards showed faith in him. They stood with him despite embarrassing arrests and practically begged him to be a professional and work on his game. Once the Wizards cleared out everyone this season, Blatche had some big scoring and rebound games and declared himself underpaid.

Saunders did suspend Blatche earlier this season for a game, but he desperately needed to do it again. For the kid’s sake, the franchise’s, the fans’ – everyone. Only, Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld let Saunders make the decision and this franchise has been humiliated again. For Saunders to call it unlike anything he had ever seen in 15 years is sure saying something considering the insurrections that arose under his watch with the Detroit Pistons.

The worst ever? Well, the Pistons players tell the story of Rasheed Wallace(notes) calling Saunders the “worst [bleeping] coward I’ve ever seen” after a loss in the 2008 Eastern Conference playoffs. Everyone was there. Everyone heard it. And nothing. Saunders took it, and watched his credibility and command of that team die a little more.

Most of these Wizards won’t be back next season, but it doesn’t matter. Somewhere, someway, the Washington Wizards need to make a stand. They never do. Never when it matters. Andray Blatche is 23 years old, a disappointment, a career malingerer and within 24 hours he quit on his team and ripped the hell out of his coach. Flip Saunders backed down, and Ernie Grunfeld let him do it. No one wants to hear about the talk they had with the kid, no one wants to hear Blatche understands he made a mistake. They’ve all done far too much talking and taken far too little action.

Gilbert Arenas gets sentenced on Friday in Washington, and yet somehow the Wizards have learned nothing. Anything still goes. Anything at all. Only now, they’ll let anyone run roughshod over the franchise. You don’t even need to be a star.

Adrian Wojnarowski is the NBA columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Adrian a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Mar 25, 2010