OAKLAND – When the Warriors took the court Tuesday morning for their first workout under new coach Steve Kerr, there was among them a relative stranger.
Festus Ezeli was back.
For nearly 17 months, the popular backup center was confined to the sideline. After undergoing reconstructive knee surgery in June 2013, Ezeli has spent the interim rehabbing, rehabbing some more and being pronounced as fit before being restricted in recent months by leg inflammation.
So often was Ezeli seen going through individual drills apart from the team, it reached a point where the "Return of Festus" took on an element of myth.
Well, he's finally back on the court with his teammates.
"Festus went full bore," Kerr said.
"Festus is so happy to be out here. He's desperate to play. It's been a long time since he's been on the court with the team. It was great to see him out there. We need him.''
Ezeli, who established himself as a rotation player in his rookie season of 2012-13, was not available for post-practice interviews, but his teammates clearly were buoyed by his presence and encouraged by what they saw.
"He was dunking in drills where he shouldn't have been dunking, so he's definitely eager," starting center Andrew Bogut said. "He was doing three-man weaves and he's dunking the ball, and the ball is rolling down to the other end of the court. And I'm telling him, 'Slow down, Festus, slow down.'
"He was definitely excited. It was great to see him out there."
With Jermaine O'Neal not returning to the Warriors, Ezeli likely returns to the role of being the primary big man behind Bogut.
Ezeli's defensive impact is undeniable, but his offense remains a work in progress.
The Warriors, however, are just pleased he's back and hope he's beyond his physical struggles.