OAKLAND –- For lo these many years, the Warriors searched for a legitimate NBA center, a big man who would provide a presence in the paint. And almost always, they trotted out a big man with a pulse.
What they have now, as displayed Monday night in a 109-95 win over the Detroit Pistons, qualifies in Warriors lore as overdue compensation for all those seasons with a hole at center.
They have two centers. Both have a presence. Both are capable of starting.
What in the name of Zarko Cabarkapa is going on here?
There is the veteran, Andrew Bogut, whose arrival via trade 44 months ago sparked a franchise turnaround. He was the opening-night starter but sustained a concussion and missed six games before returning on Monday.
And there is the relative youngster, Festus Ezeli, who was drafted three months later in hopes he could be groomed as Bogut’s replacement. Ezeli showed in Bogut’s absence, and again Monday, that the grooming process is nearing completion.
Who starts? Who finishes? How do the Warriors divide the playing time? With Bogut back, there are decisions to make.
Interim coach Luke Walton has said on several occasions that once Bogut returns to peak basketball condition, he’ll meet with the staff – surely including head coach Steve Kerr – and determine how to proceed. That’s as close as anybody has come to answering the question.
General manager Bob Myers, in the wake of Monday’s win, came no closer, suggesting he’s a bit too removed to inject himself into the process.
“We’re confident they’ll make all the right decisions,” Myers told CSNBayArea.com, referring to the coaches. “They already have. Steve and his staff have shown they are able to get the most out of each player, to the benefit of the entire team.”
Ezeli started Monday, playing 23 minutes and finishing with eight points and two blocked shots. He grabbed only two rebounds, but his No. 1 goal was to keep Pistons big man Andre Drummond, who has been dominating every opponent, from dominating the glass. Ezeli mostly succeeded.
Bogut came off the bench and played 19 minutes, finishing with eight points and nine rebounds in his first action since the Oct. 27 opener. He was crucial to the Warriors pushing their record to 8-0, the best-ever start for the franchise.
“He was great,” Myers said of Bogut.
“He was great, absolutely great,” Walton seconded. “He was huge in defending that monster (Drummond) they have over there. Him and Festus both did a great job.”
And there it is: Bogut and Festus both did a great job. The numbers bear it out. They combined for 16 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and two blocks.
What to do?
“I just want to play,” Bogut said. “We have a lot of guys that can play 30-40 minutes a night. Whatever the role is, I’m ready for it. I’ve come off the bench before, a couple times during the season last season.”
Bogut, you may recall, accepted being removed from the starting lineup in the NBA Finals last June. The Warriors wanted to speed the pace, so they used a smaller lineup, sliding power forward Draymond Green to center create a lineup that was too quick for the Cavaliers.
Ezeli is a bit more agile than Bogut, and a better pure athlete. That makes him more suited to the run the floor. Yet Bogut adds more dimensions to the offense than does Ezeli. Bogut is wilier, more instinctive and sees the floor much better.
“Bogut’s one of those players that makes his teammates better, for sure,” Walton said. “Having him on the floor, people get open looks. The more Bogut plays, the more open shots our guys that are on the floor with him will get.”
The most likely conclusion, assuming both are healthy, is that Bogut will start and Ezeli will serve as his capable backup.
“One thing our team has shown is that they do value winning above anything,” Myers said. “Whether it’s stats or minutes, starts or coming off the bench, that’s why they won a ring last year.”
They learned Monday night that they have enough centers to chase more rings this season. They have two, which is plenty – and a long way from the gallery of mediocrity that for so many years “manned” the middle for a franchise lost.