The Golden State Warriors are 20-9 without Andrew Bogut in the lineup this season. Golden State traded away star player Monta Ellis for Bogut last March. Despite the Australian center's absence from the court, the trade has paid dividends for the team.
Still, even at 22-11, the Warriors are not as good as they'd like to be. While Golden State's main goal is to make the playoffs for just the second time in 18 seasons, the ultimate goal of any franchise is a championship.
Even though the Warriors look like a championship contender record-wise, the team has had trouble stopping teams with offensively potent big men, which most playoff foes will have.
Andrew Bogut would cure this woe, along with several other core concerns among Warriors fans. The problem is that there is no timetable for Bogut's return. And even when and if he returns, there is reason to be skeptical that a 7'0", 260-pounder with a history of lower body injuries will remain healthy long-term.
The Golden State Warriors hope Bogut gets back soon and stays healthy, but a successful NBA franchise is not run on hope.
Let's look at how Golden State must prepare for every potential situation regarding the future of Andrew Bogut.
All stats courtesy of basketballreference.com, all contract figures courtesy of hoopshype.com
Although this is a best-case scenario, an Andrew Bogut return will not necessarily be a good thing unless the Warriors are ready for it.
Adding a player of Bogut's caliber will change the lineup rotations, defensive strategy, shot distribution and team chemistry.
First and foremost, minutes must be found. Bogut has averaged 32.6 minutes per game throughout his career. While he will likely be eased back into the lineup, it's unrealistic to expect Bogut to play any less than 26 minutes per game when he returns (he'll likely play closer to 28).
Where will these minutes come from? Primarily, Andris Biedrins should see a reduction in playing time. Bogut should eat his 10 MPG, and current starting center Festus Ezeli should slide from 16 MPG into that 10-MPG role. This would give Bogut 16 minutes. Other frontcourt players such as David Lee and Carl Landry are both too effective to sacrifice more than a minute each, leaving Bogut with 18 MPG.
The Warriors often tend to go small, with Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green playing the 4 at times. Bogut will allow the Warriors to ease up on this lineup, as his athleticism and offensive skill will make the slowing impact that the team's current centers have obsolete. This would in turn push Klay Thompson either off the court or into the 2-guard spot, which would then in turn cut into Jarrett Jack's and Stephen Curry's minutes.
This isn't an exact science, but this up-sizing of the Warriors lineup would more or less result in one or two fewer minutes from Barnes, Green, Thompson, Jack, Curry and Charles Jenkins each night. This would stretch Bogut to the target 26-28 MPG.
Once integrated into the rotation, the Warriors need to make sure they are maximizing Bogut's skills.
Defensively, the Warriors have been giving opponents the mid-range jumper all season in an effort to keep the ball out of the paint at all costs. Bogut's presence will make this strategy less necessary, and the Warriors could move from good to elite on the defensive end if they begin covering pick-and-rolls a little more tightly once Bogut returns.
Offensively, Bogut shouldn't be too hard to integrate. He won't be taking many more shots than Ezeli and Biedrins do; he'll just be converting at a much higher rate. The more he scores, the more the Warriors ball-handlers will look for him, but that should be a relatively pleasant, seamless transition.
Even though Bogut says he plans on being back on the court before the 2012-13 season ends, there's no way to predict when or if setbacks will arise for a big body attempting to recover from microfracture surgery.
The possibility that Bogut does not return (or returns and gets re-injured) is a worrisome one, but the Warriors must be ready for it.
Of course, if this doesn't become clear until March or April, the Warriors won't have much to prepare for. They'll keep doing what they've done all season and hope for the best.
The question is: If it becomes clear that Bogut won't be back before the trading deadline, does the team need to consider acquiring a veteran center?
If the team continues to win at their current rate, the answer is a definite no. The Warriors face a tough schedule between now and the deadline. If they maintain their playoff cushion and remain in contention for home court in the first round, there will be little reason to believe they can't sustain it, with or without great center play.
However, if the team falters against a slew of teams with skilled big men—Memphis, Denver, San Antonio, L.A. Clippers, Oklahoma City, Chicago—in the next three weeks and drops into the playoff bubble by mid-February, a move would need to be considered.
Yes, the Warriors have several untouchable players—Curry, Thompson, Barnes and Lee without a doubt—and several others who are playing too well to risk moving—Jack, Landry, Green. The only reasonable way in which the Warriors should pursue a center upgrade this deadline would be through taking on a rental player such as Chris Kaman or Al Jefferson.
Jefferson would almost certainly require more than Golden State could part with, so Kaman may be the best option. The aging Mavs would welcome any youth. Perhaps if the Warriors dangled any combination of Kent Bazemore, Charles Jenkins, Jeremy Tyler and a future draft pick, the Mavs would bite.
The Warriors cannot get too carried away with this season, but the reality is this: Bogut or no Bogut, Golden State has to make the playoffs this year. If they do not, it will lead to a loss of all of the franchise's momentum and a scary downward spiral.
If the need for a center becomes glaring, they will need to go get one.
The chances that Andrew Bogut doesn't ever play in the NBA again are so slim that they're really not worth discussing. However, ankle and foot injuries have doomed the careers of NBA big men before, and Bogut's 99.9 percent chance of eventual return does not mean a 99.9 percent chance of sustained health.
What if Bogut comes back and re-injures his ankle? What if the oft-injured center develops another injury? The Warriors are trying to build something great, and they will not achieve true greatness without a strong big man in the middle.
But what if Bogut never becomes that big man?
Any thought of signing a big-time center this summer should be immediately scrapped. The Warriors are up against the cap, and will continue to be with Bogut ($14 million) signed through next year, along with Lee ($14 million), Richard Jefferson ($11 million), Biedrins ($9 million) and Curry ($10 million). In fact, even with Jarrett Jack's $6 million contract coming off the books, the Warriors will shoot over the cap thanks to several contracts that spike upwards next year.
Goodbye Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum and Al Jefferson.
Instead, the Warriors will have to either make a trade or hope that Festus Ezeli develops. Bogut, Jefferson and Biedrins will all become free agents after the 2013-14 season, so the summer after next would be the ideal time to sign a franchise center.
Despite the urgency for the Warriors, patience must be exercised if the team is to come out of this situation successfully. Panicky contracts such as those to Corey Maggette and Stephen Jackson have hurt this team.
Stephen Curry is locked up for four years after this season. David Lee has three more. Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson will hit restricted free agency in that time, and the team will likely commit a big contract to at least one of them.
While putting a championship-caliber center and, in turn, a championship-caliber team on the floor next season would be nice, it will only be doable if Andrew Bogut is that center.
If he isn't able to go, then Warriors fans and ownership would be wise to wait an extra year, as hard as it may be.