Andrew Bogut emerges from a decade of doubt and discomfort

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The first seven years of Andrew Bogut’s NBA career were just inconsistent enough to make the league forget he was once its most sought-after. Three years removed from Milwaukee, he’s a cornerstone to a franchise in the hunt for its first championship in 40 years.

By Andrew Pridgen

Andrew Bogut’s professional nadir happened on March 13, 2012 when 2005’s number-one overall pick became the center to be named later.

The rebuilding Golden State Warriors traded budding superstar guard Monta Ellis to the Milwaukee Bucks for resident hothead Stephen Jackson. The teams also swapped a pair of underperforming centers: the argument-against-high-school-to-the-pros Kwame Brown for Melbourne-native Bogut, who was in imminent danger of playing his way back to the prison island.

For the playoff-hungry Warriors, Bogut was a consolation prize, a miniature troll doll pencil topper rather than a giant stuffed koala. The team, under new ownership and looking for a big signing to buoy a stadium build, was prepared to deal Ellis and future draft picks to the Orlando Magic for coveted center Dwight Howard. Howard refused to sign a long-term extension for the league’s Central Florida-based repository of lost souls—but D-12 also wanted the opportunity to lift a contender on his steel-beam shoulders. Back then, Golden State was viewed by elite players like Howard as the second-worst place to do time in the Bay just behind San Quentin.

But the real coup for Milwaukee was the dumping of contracts. Bogut was shackled with two years and $27 million remaining and Jackson had one year, $10 million left. Picking up a $40 million tab for the short-term services of an aging 18 ppg guard and a sloth-like center with bad ankles wasn’t the answer Warrior faithful had waited for after two decades of consecutive losing seasons broken up by a single playoff appearance in 2007.

Things had gone from disappointing to dire in Warriortown and Bogut was the new scapegoat. A symbol of a moribund franchise trading its best player in exchange for a lottery bust and the beginning of another regime of owner and upper-management ineptitude.

Prior to the trade, the league’s top scorer and best finisher was poised to bring the Warriors to relevance beyond the shores of the Carquinez. But Ellis had his own demons. He lied to management about an off-season scooter crash at the beginning of the 2008 campaign. His misjudgement resulted in a 30-game suspension from the team and a recurring ankle injury. The breach of trust ultimately moved the Warriors to select Steph Curry, who possessed an identical skill set to Ellis but a more refined NBA pedigree, with its 2009 lottery pick.

Though the pair showed flashes of future greatness together, three years toiling in the same backcourt did not galvanize as much as expose Ellis and Curry as on-court adversaries. By the time the Bucks deal happened, there was nightly dissonance at Oracle. Ellis was loath to give up the rock or even let Curry, then prone to turnovers, bring it down the court. And Curry, knowing he wouldn’t get the ball back, was more than happy to dish to everyone but Monta, notably rookie 6’7” shooting guard Klay Thompson.

Someone had to go.

The first attempt of new owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber (no relation to Die Hard villain Hans) to unstick the franchise was to hire Jerry West, the architect of the Showtime Lakers and the GM who took the Memphis Grizzlies from expansion franchise to perennial playoff contender. West, a 14-time All-Star and logo silhouette, joined the Warriors in 2011 as soon as the ink dried on the team’s sale.

The second attempt was to move the team’s top jersey seller and franchise’s face based on West’s advice.

Just like that, Monta was gone and fans were outraged.

That Bogut suited up in a suit the remainder of the season didn’t help his glass jaw image. In time to their new acquisition, the Warriors limped to a 23-43 finish, 13th in the Western Division. Bogut played 12 games, total, that year and came to be viewed by fans and scribes as a write-down in exchange to swipe off the growing cancer of Ellis.

The following season, Bogut continued to rehab with limited success. Appearances in 32 games for a total of 186 points (just 20 more than the previous season…in 20 more games) curbed even low expectations. The center drew criticism not only for his nagging injuries but for slowing down the progress of a quickly gelling, uptempo team.

The Warriors—thanks to the emergence of Curry and Thompson, young forwards Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green and the acquisition of veteran small forward Andre Igudala—were suddenly contenders. The steady if unspectacular play of backup center Festus Ezeli was the salve the franchise and fans needed to forget about Bogut.

But Bogut didn’t quit.

During the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Bogut worked himself back into the lineup playing 67 games in each averaging 450 points and 115 blocks. Last spring, the Warriors’ hopes to go deep in the playoffs were higher than anytime since the early ‘90s…until the team got word of Bogut’s broken rib. Bogut missed the entirety of the postseason and the Warriors fell to the Clippers in seven games during the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs.

This season, the Warriors have a different coach, a different approach and a different Bogut—one who is healthy and increasing minutes as the calendar pages turn.

Under rookie head coach Steve Kerr, the Warriors matured into the league’s most well-rounded. The team capped a regular season of realized expectation with the NBA’s best record, best home record and tied for fifth with points scored and points allowed. The Warriors also finished sixth in rebounds and points differential. Besides team assists (11th) offensively and defensively there isn’t one category Golden State didn’t find itself in the league’s top 10.

Bogut is neither a flash in the lane nor an imposing physical presence underneath. He doesn’t dominate in any one aspect of the game but is good in all. He considers himself a working part of the team’s first unit and a guiding force behind its league-best bench.

In game one of the first round of the 2015 playoffs against the New Orleans Pelicans, a team known for its physicality, Bogut scored 12 points, pulled down 14 rebounds, blocked two shots and had two steals and five assists. Game two Bogut corralled a game-high 14 boards and threw down a massive, series-defining dunk. More importantly, the suddenly spry center, who averaged fewer than 24 minutes during the regular season, played more than 30 on Saturday and Monday as the Warriors went up 2-0 in the series.

Bogut doesn’t address the ups and downs of his 10-year career. He doesn’t speak about the Warriors faithful who said his game was a hindrance to the small-and-nimble play of the Mark Jackson era. He barely acknowledges the unselfish, workaday approach now so closely associated with his and his team’s image.

He lives, as he did during the dark times, in the now.

“We have a team,” Bogut said after game two addressing the task at hand, defending the Pelican’s superstar power forward Anthony Davis. “Draymond and I did a good job together. Draymond brings a different dynamic. He’s way quicker than me. We could give Davis different looks. We don’t want him to get comfortable.”

After a decade of focusing on his game and his health, not the detractors, perhaps Bogut can take comfort his redemptive moment may have finally arrived.

 

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