For the third straight season, Golden State Warriors fans are being introduced to a new version of Andrew Bogut.
A trade-deadline acquisition in 2011-12, Bogut never made an appearance for the Dubs that season as he was sidelined with a fractured ankle. Those ankle problems lingered into 2012-13 and the 7-footer was handled with kid gloves. Limited by minutes and games restrictions, he managed less than 25 minutes a night over 32 regular-season appearances.
But Bogut arrived at the 2013 Warriors training camp with a clean bill of health and incredible optimism. As Warriors general manager Bob Meyers put it, via the Associated Press, Bogut looked like "the player we envisioned when we traded for him."
Coincidence or not, this happens to be a contract year for the Australian native. And, via NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper, the two sides have recently begun discussing the framework of a contract extension.
Bogut said the Warriors' initial figures "weren't insulting" but also "weren't what I'm looking for." After playing just 44 games over the past two seasons, he said he'd be willing to accept a deal featuring incentives clauses based on his activity level.
The Warriors have two options here, and both come with risks.
By extending him now, the team opens itself to the possibility that it will overpay for damaged goods. Bogut wouldn't be the first player miraculously healed in a contract year, healing powers that sometimes vanish shortly after the ink dries on a new deal.
However, if the Warriors opt to wait until next summer to sign him, they risk watching him play his way into a new pay grade.
Neither option will be particularly comfortable in the short-term, but over the long haul the Warriors could benefit from taking a proactive approach.
The Scarcity of Centers
Even amid today's shrinking frontcourts, size still matters in the NBA. Legitimate size like Bogut's (7'0", 260 lbs) always comes with a steep premium.
Size trumps nearly everything else at the negotiating table.
Indiana Pacers big man Roy Hibbert is still very much a work in progress, but he's working on the second season of his max contract (four years, $58 million). Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan is still a part-time player (24.5 minutes per game last season), yet he's entering the third year of a four-year, $43 million deal.
The Warriors know better than anyone about the pain of overpaying for size. Contract albatross Andris Biedrins (sub-9.0 player efficiency rating over the last two seasons) was finally shipped out of the Bay this summer after hitting the Dubs for $45 million over the last five seasons.
In other words, Bogut doesn't need a monster statistical season to strike it rich next summer should these contract negotiations break down. But if he turned in anything resembling his former All-NBA production (15.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 2009-10), his price tag would grow exponentially.
Golden State has already seen the kind of imprint the big man can leave. During the Warriors' playoff run last season—Bogut's healthiest stretch with Golden State—he offered the franchise an unlikely look into the ranks of the elites.
When he was on the floor, the Warriors had a 109.2 offensive rating and yielded a 102.0 defensive rating, via Basketball-Reference.com. Without Bogut, the team managed just 102.7 points per 100 possessions and allowed 110.5. For all of the non-math majors out there, that equates to a net gain of 15 points per 100 possessions.
That type of production swing just screams the need for the Warriors to get this deal done sooner than later. And it's not their only incentive to hasten these talks.
There is no replacement for Bogut on this current roster.
The 35-year-old Jermaine O'Neal could be striking up his Swan song. Sophomore Festus Ezeli is incredibly raw and his development was halted by knee surgery that could keep him sidelined until 2014. Rookie Ognjen Kuzmic has yet to play a preseason game and didn't have a contract in time to play at the Las Vegas Summer League.
Searching outside the organization for an answer is an even taller task. The loaded 2014 free-agent class is short on impactful big men. Behind Miami Heat all-star Chris Bosh (who would need to opt out of his current contract just to hit the market), Bogut and Marcin Gortat of the Phoenix Suns will likely be the next two best centers.
Draft day will offer little relief. The Warriors owe their 2014 first-round pick to the Utah Jazz (as part of the Andre Iguodala sign-and-trade) and their second-round selection belongs to the Minnesota Timberwolves (for the No. 26 pick in this past draft).
If he's anywhere near full strength, Bogut's value is almost immeasurable. I say almost because we still need to look at the team's...
The picture isn't scary, but it's far from being a work of art.
The Warriors are on the hook for more than $113 million just for the trio of Iguodala, Stephen Curry and David Lee over the next three seasons. During that stretch, the team could also be looking at significant contract extensions for Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes.
The good news for Golden State fans is that this is largely money well spent.
Curry's an absolute steal on his current contract (four years, $44 million) and an example of the best-case scenario when gambling on an immensely talented, but injury-prone player. Iguodala isn't the same type of bargain, but he turned down more money elsewhere to come to the Bay.
Thompson and Barnes each have incredibly high ceilings, and both will have to earn any money they get before heading to the negotiating table.
Lee's deal (three years, $44 million left) is the only real burden, and the weight of that deal will get heavier over time. Not only does his salary grow with each subsequent season, the 30-year-old will also be facing a tightening grip from Father Time.
Locking down Bogut on a major contract would handcuff the franchise for the life of the deal.
In a way, there's a certain tragic element in play. Just when the Bay actually emerged as a coveted destination for marquee free agents—owner Joe Lacob told Sporting News' Sean Deveney that the team came closer to landing Dwight Howard than most people realize—the Warriors can't afford to sign them.
Given the talent that could be on the move over the coming seasons (Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James next summer; Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and Marc Gasol the following year), it would have been fun to watch Curry out on the recruiting trail. Who wouldn't want to play alongside a guy who can literally shoot from anywhere?
Barring any trades, though, this is the unit the Warriors will go to war with over the coming seasons.
The projections for this team are as glowing as any this fan base has heard for decades. The additions of Iguodala and a fully healthy Bogut should eliminate two of the biggest concerns from last season's group: slashing and interior scoring.
And for as much as I like the Iguodala signing, it's Bogut that promises the larger payoff if he's really ready to go. As a rim protector and slick-passing big man, he can carry this team at either end of the floor. If his scoring returns (he averaged 14.0 points on 51.7 percent shooting from 2008-11), the Warriors could form unsolvable offensive puzzles.
Buying Bogut now is akin to buying this team's...
That is the reason these offseason maneuvers were made, right?
Nearly every step this franchise took this summer was taken with an eye on the present. You're not planning for the future when you spend your free-agent funds on Iguodala (29 years old), O'Neal (35), Toney Douglas (27) and Marreese Speights (26).
Experts have largely reached a consensus that this team improved over the offseason. Whether it did enough to actually contend for a title sparks a more divisive response.
As with every team, health is paramount to the Warriors' success. Given the injury histories of two of the most prominent players on the roster (Curry and Bogut), medical red flags will be raised quicker in the Bay than anywhere else.
Do you see the Warriors as championship contenders this season?
Let's assume the Warriors can avoid those debilitating injuries that have destroyed seasons past. Does this team have the right pieces to form a championship puzzle?
It would take a best-case scenario season, but it's absolutely a possibility.
The Warriors are a nightmare for any defense to contend with. They have hordes of shooters (paced by the Splash Brothers), an intriguing collection of athletic slashers (Barnes, Iguodala and Kent Bazemore) and a combo of high-post (Lee, Speights) and low-post (Bogut, O'Neal) scoring threats.
Golden State's defense is also built to handle (almost) any three-man attack. Between Barnes, Iguodala, Thompson and Bazemore, the Dubs have length, speed and strength stalking the perimeter. Bigger teams could give the Warriors some problems (cough Lee cough), but an O'Neal-Bogut frontcourt pairing will work in stretches.
Re-signing Bogut ties the Warriors hands for the future. The potential for growth would rest solely on the franchise's player development programs.
But it solidifies this organization as an NBA power for the present. For a fanbase so unbelievably starved for success (two playoff series wins since 1991), a win-now mentality is long overdue.