MILWAUKEE – The Golden State Warriors’ ascension has given Andrew Bogut sanity for now, providing him reason to rehabilitate his left ankle thoroughly. He knows that sitting out all these games would have been difficult on him if the Warriors had gotten off to a tough start. Furthermore, he can envision all the questions, perhaps all the criticism he’d receive had this been a 17-26 team – not a 26-17 success.
Bogut had feelings of nostalgia as his team faced the Bucks here on Saturday night for the first time since last season’s trade that sent the center to the Warriors. Seeing the “Welcome to Milwaukee” sign on the bus ride from Chicago on Friday night, the memories flooded back.
Injuries have tacked off so many seasons of Bogut’s career that it can be easy to forget he made the All-NBA third team just three years ago. When healthy, he’s a skilled low-post player and a presence that pillars the defense. Yet still, in an era where polished big men come and go, rise and get hurt, Bogut is yet another casualty.
As he rehabs from microfracture surgery, Bogut doesn’t have a target date in mind for his return. He’s traveling on road trips, immersing himself and smiling with teammates, and he participated in mid-range shooting drills with fellow big men on Saturday. After playing four of the season’s first five games, Bogut has been restless at times to come back, but he’s adamant that he needs to stay diligent to continue making strides in his rehab.
“It’s progressing, but it’s frustrating at the same time,” Bogut told RealGM. “I’m going to keep rehabbing and once it’s ready, it’s ready.”
Without Bogut, the Warriors have cemented themselves as a playoff threat. To Mark Jackson’s credit, they’ve found ways to win with two rookies (Harrison Barnes and Festus Elezi) and a second-year guard still learning and striving for consistency (Klay Thompson) in the starting five. Even so, listening to Jackson after the Warriors’ 109-102 loss to the Bucks, Golden State still must fortify their defense and rebounding – two areas Bogut knows he’ll enhance immediately upon his comeback.
Whenever Bogut returns to the court, one decision has already been made: He will have a minutes limit and will be brought along slowly. Considering Elezi’s ability to mesh with David Lee, Bogut could very well come off the bench initially – a role that would allow him to focus on defending and rebounding.
“It’s one of those things where I come back and ease into things,” Bogut said. “I can’t come out here and expect to play 40 minutes a game. I have to ease into it and take my time and get settled.
“I’ll play however they want me to play, but obviously there’ll be a little bit of a restriction early on.”
Within the Warriors’ locker room, Bogut’s teammates are excited to get the big man back for an extended stretch of the season heading into their playoff run. In the minds of Warriors players, Bogut has looked strong in workouts and has offered enough glimpses to make them confident a return shouldn’t be too far away.
“We just got to get used to playing alongside one another,” Lee told RealGM. “[Bogut] is a guy that has a great feel for the game. He’ll obviously be our anchor down low defensively, so we’re really looking to getting him back and we hope it’s real soon.”
For Bogut, his almost seven seasons with the Bucks helped transform him as a person. He was back on Saturday, but there was no video tribute all night as he sat on the bench in a suit. With so much promise, he was drafted by the Bucks first overall in 2005, but he left a year ago as a player who could have offered so much more.
These freak injuries have admittedly turned Bogut injury-prone, but now finally, he’s back in a position where there’s potential with him, where he’s depended on, where he can be the anchor of a franchise.
“It’s hard for me to say if I’m the missing piece because I haven’t played,” Bogut said, “but I could definitely see where I fit in and be a difference.”