Posted Dec 15 2011 11:13AM
ST. FRANCIS, Wis. -- At his going rate as a professional basketballer, Andrew Bogut had more money at stake than most during the labor lockout that wiped eight weeks off the NBA calendar. By the time both owners and players surrendered, salvaging a 66-game schedule, an actual dollar amount could be put on Bogut's and everyone else's financial hit.
Sixteen games lost, pro-rated at Bogut's $12.1 million salary for 2011-12, equals $2,360,975.
And guess what? It was worth every five-cent coin (sorry, no pennies anymore Down Under, mate).
"Like I said last year, I would have given $2 million out of my contract if it never happened," Bogut said, the "it" still obvious in the way his right arm doesn't quite straighten fully and in the ache he gets in cold weather from the screw embedded above his right index finger.
The "it" was the ugly spill Bogut took on a breakout dunk in April 2010. When his right arm folded badly beneath him, "it" spoiled Milwaukee's postseason ambitions that spring and pretty much all of last season for the Bucks.
"I'd give $5 million," the native of Melbourne, Australia continued. "[I knew I was] going to lose some money, but [I felt] I'd pay that money right now to have my arm 100 percent. Essentially I did with the lockout -- I'd rather be feeling the way I'm feeling now. It was a blessing in disguise for me. It let me stay an extra two months in the gym."
Bogut's arm was not healed last season and, in turn, he never was quite right. The 7-footer steadily had been moving toward All-Star status, averaging 15.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks when 2009-10 ended painfully early. Last season, he still was helpful to Milwaukee's defense (11.1 rebounds, 2.6 blocks) but offensively he was a mess and, in turn, so were the Bucks.
Bogut was tentative, often ignoring his right hand, letting the arm dangle like dead meat. He became opportunistic with his scoring, seeking out easy baskets rather than imposing his game. His points dropped to 12.8 per game. A career .531 shooter through five NBA seasons, he slumped to .495. Same thing with his free throws, from .601 to .442.
"It's no secret, Andrew played last year hurt all the time," coach Scott Skiles said when the Bucks convened for the first time last week. "I probably should have talked about that more. But I was concerned about the effect me talking about it might have on the other players.
"But I went home often -- after games and after practices -- and felt bad for him that he couldn't play his game. He was still trying to and was giving us everything he had. But he played unhealthy the whole year."
Other players, by the way, weren't fooled. Bogut's teammates knew he was off, both by watching him and in the way their defenders didn't have to account for or cheat toward him. See, opponents weren't fooled either, though Bogut tried.
"During the season ... there was a time, I wouldn't tell even you guys what was going on," he told a few reporters Tuesday. "There was that one day when I finally snapped and was like, 'My elbow's absolutely terrible!' Mentally I never dealt with anything like that in my life before. The stress fracture in my back [that cost him 43 games in 2008-09] was nothing compared to that."
Bogut had company last season -- injuries shredded the Bucks -- and make no mistake, they all were miserable. From October through April, Skiles never had a single practice with a healthy roster. Instead of building on their 46-36 mark the season before, the Bucks never saw .500 after mid-November and needed to win four of their last five just to finish 35-47.
"Negativity spoiled our locker room last year," Bogut said, "all the way from the players to the coaches to the franchise. There was so much pressure about injuries. That's not a good environment to be in. ... I'm trying to block out as much of last season as I can.
Luckily we had seven months to do that."
Bogut, who turned 27 on Nov. 28, put the lockout to good use. He ran and lifted regularly, his right arm responding, eventually cutting from four weight training sessions a week to two to stay lean. He said he got up 400 to 500 shots each weekday he hit the gym. "Weekends off, come on!" the Milwaukee center said. "It was just more muscle-memory stuff on my elbow and my wrist, remembering how to shoot."
In April, Bogut had a bone fragment surgically removed from the elbow that he had played with last season. His workouts have been intense enough that he doesn't worry about the "diet Nazis," going deep-fried a few times weekly without penalty.
Down about 10 pounds from a year ago, Bogut is up considerably in mood. Teammates and coaches have noticed that as well, and opponents soon shall too. He is finding cutters, moving around in the offensive zone, working off either shoulder now compared to last year's one-armed game. Who knows? The Eastern Conference might be looking for a new All-Star center soon anyway.
"Andrew looks totally different. You can tell he feels better," Skiles said. "When he catches it and goes quick to the basket, he's got a much quicker first step than people think. Last year, he was catching and looking and waiting. He just didn't feel comfortable.
"He obviously worked very hard this summer and, when the season's over, may look back and think it was a little bit of a blessing that he had a little more time even."
Lockout goodness is hard to come by these days, especially for the small markets, so Bogut and Milwaukee will take it where they can find it. After all, he paid for it before he paid for it.
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