LOS ANGELES — Andrew Bogut came back to the Warriors expecting to wave a towel. Who knew he’d actually need one here in the playoffs?
Life comes at you fast, and so does opportunity, and suddenly Bogut has gone from insurance policy to rotational player and perhaps the Warriors’ best big man, all in a matter of days.
“It’s crazy,” he said in that familiar Aussie twang.
Two months ago, Bogut was in his native country, having just wrapped up an MVP season in Australia's National Basketball League when his caller ID showed a familiar area code from the U.S. On Sunday, he’ll get some significant burn at Staples Center when the Warriors try to push their first-round lead over the Clippers toward 3-1.
This is a case of a player being in the right place at the right time and a two-time defending champion not taking their place in the league for granted. As a result, Bogut has found new life for his NBA career at age 34 and the Warriors, a capable replacement for starter DeMarcus Cousins, who’s probably done for the season with a torn right quad.
"Andrew has been a godsend," said coach Steve Kerr. "The reason it was such a great signing for us, is not that he’s just a hell of a player, but because he has been with us and he is so familiar with what we do.”
Yes, this is a remarriage of convenience — Bogut knows the system and his way around the locker room, and the Warriors know what he brings and how to squeeze him into the system. When they signed him in mid-March, the plan was for Bogut to back up Cousins but mostly be someone who could provide additional leadership in the locker room and a wise voice on the bench.
The bonus is Bogut is healthy, in tremendous shape and moving smoothly on the floor. This is the pleasant surprise the Warriors weren’t fully expecting, but will take, even though the center position has never been emphasized during the Kerr era.
Bogut’s play in Game 3 made the Warriors more confident and reassured about the 5, anyway. He started, grabbed 14 rebounds, found open teammates and dished out five assists, proving respectable while defending the rim. Bogut played 25 minutes, his most in the NBA since January of 2017.
“He looks amazing,” Draymond Green said. “Incredible to have him back where he belongs.”
Bogut has a bit of unfinished business with the Warriors. During his previous tour of duty, he suffered a knee injury in Game 5 and was lost for the remainder of the 2016 NBA Finals, which the Warriors ultimately lost to Cleveland. Bogut was a factor in that series and his injury, along with Green’s infamous one-game suspension, probably cost Bogut a second championship ring and the Warriors a potential fourth during this ongoing dynastic run.
The former No. 1 overall pick closed out his first 13-year stint in the NBA as a drifter, seeing scattered playing time with the Mavericks, Cavaliers and Lakers after the Warriors didn’t re-sign him, just 51 games total. When the Lakers released him after 24 games in 2017, there were no other takers and Bogut retreated to Australia, all but retired from the NBA.
Andrew is a brilliant basketball mind ... when you teach him a play, he gets it right away.
Once his body healed, he chose to return to the game to success with the Sydney Kings. He was league MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, averaging 11.4 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.7 blocks in 30 games. Besides basketball, Bogut began raising a family and the balance was beneficial to him.
"I feel good," Bogut said. "Probably more mentally as well. Just felt burnt out mentally with the grind of the NBA season for 13 seasons straight. It was good to just get home and get back to some normality, playing in Australia once or twice a week. And then obviously having a family now. Family kind of changes my perspective of what should be stressful and what shouldn’t be and what’s important in life.”
The urge to return to the States simmered inside him, however, especially since he wouldn’t need to trudge through an entire NBA season. Bogut says that’s unlikely to happen again, no matter how well he plays from here. Still, he wants to make the most of the next two months, assuming the Warriors are still in business.
“Leaving and coming back makes you appreciate this much more,” he said. “Having another opportunity to play with the best players in the world is great. I probably appreciate it much more now. When you’re stuck in the moment as I was the first time around, I don’t think I enjoyed it and been appreciative of it as I should’ve been.”
From a numbers standpoint, the Warriors didn’t need Bogut, even though Damian Jones, the starting center at the season’s onset, is out with a torn pectoral muscle. Not only was Cousins healthy, but Kevon Looney showed growth and a new confidence in his mid-range shot. Looney, however, is more of a power forward, and the Warriors had nothing to lose by bringing in Bogut, a favorite of Kerr thanks to his instincts and intelligence.
“Andrew is a brilliant basketball mind,” Kerr said. “He’s one of those guys when you call a play or teach him a play, he gets it right away. He understands where all five players should be and he understands why you’re running the play. He just has beautiful feel for the game. He sees and feels the game like Andre (Iguodala) does, only at the center position. His voice is so prominent, when you’re down on the floor and our team is on defense, you can hear Boges barking out commands, barking out signals, letting guys know where they need to be, like he’s like a quarterback out there.”
While Cousins was obviously a productive player, he often struggled in the pick and roll and has never been known for defense. Those are areas of strength for Bogut and it gives Kerr more options with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, shooters who are deadly when sprung off picks. Also, with the emphasis on half-court play in the playoffs, Bogut's 7-foot stature becomes an asset near the rim on both ends.
“This is the reason we signed him,” Curry said. “We never wanted to talk about it and want to admit of the possibility. But it was to shore up that center position in case of injury. It’s how it has played out. We have to be ready to adjust and win basketball games.”
The Clippers don’t offer much resistance in the middle. Yet if the playoff seeds hold true and the Warriors see the Rockets in the second round, Bogut will be valuable against Clint Capela, who is active offensively in the pick and roll.
“I just want to be a positive to the team,” Bogut said. “They don’t need me to score, obviously. But whatever they need, really. I can be a voice defensively, control the paint and do what they need me to do. I feel I fit in pretty well. Not a whole lot has changed in the system and the flow of the game since my first time here. Hopefully as an older guy who’s played around the world I can use my voice a little more and get guys going.”
One month into this reunion, Bogut and the Warriors have discovered they need each other more than either imagined.
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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here .
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