When the Warriors chose a 6-foot-11 center from Vanderbilt in the first round of the draft last week, the immediate reaction was that they were ready to move on from their incumbent 6-11 center from Vanderbilt.
That taking Damian Jones was a pointed message to backup big man Festus Ezeli.
Drafting Jones also was, according to league sources, an indication of the team’s frustration with starting big man Andrew Bogut, who is a candidate to be moved should the Warriors succeed in their pursuit of upcoming free agent Kevin Durant.
The Warriors, should they win the race to KD, will have to shed salary and several sources indicate they’d like to move Bogut as much if not more than anyone else.
Though Warriors coach Steve Kerr is committed to having a versatile lineup, able to play big or small, the team has grown frustrated by Bogut’s unreliability, particularly in times of greatest need. Because he turns 32 in November, it’s unrealistic to expect much to change.
Bogut’s well-documented injury history, according to sources, accounts for only part of the team’s annoyance. He missed the last two games of the NBA Finals after sustaining multiple bone bruises in his left knee when landing awkwardly after colliding with stumbling Cleveland guard JR Smith in Game 5 at Oracle Arena.
The Warriors lost Games 5, 6 and 7, becoming the first team in NBA history to blow a 3-1 series lead in The Finals.
The Warriors apparently were displeased with much of Bogut’s postseason work prior to the injury.
Though the team firmly believes Bogut’s value is only partially reflected in his individual statistics, his numbers were nonetheless unkind, particularly as related to rebounds – which became an increasingly higher priority as the Warriors continued their march through the postseason.
In 52 minutes over the first four games of The Finals, Bogut snagged 12 rebounds, never more than five in a game. Cavs big man Tristan Thompson, who during the same span played 110 minutes, grabbed 37 rebounds. Backup Timofey Mozgov grabbed seven rebounds in 21 minutes.
Net result: Even when the Warriors stayed big, they were battered on the glass, forcing Kerr to go small at times when he would have preferred to stay big.
Bogut’s offensive numbers are not meant to impress; scoring is not his role. But the Warriors have grown weary with his reluctance to engage himself on that end, which is something scouts have noted and opponents have exploited.
If all things were equal and the Warriors were forced to choose between Bogut and Ezeli, two sources expressed belief the team would prefer Ezeli, who was cheaper last season but almost certainly won’t be next season.
Bogut, entering the final year of his contract, will make a base salary of $11.03 million in 2016-17. His failure to reach incentives in 2015-16 saved the Warriors about $4 million while also making his ’16-’17 incentives “unlikely,” therefore saving the franchise another $1.7 million off the salary cap next season.
The Warriors, by the way, are privately delighted with the savings. And it’s not because they’ve suddenly become obsessed with the bottom line.
Former Warriors coach Mark Jackson occasionally made subtle comments questioning Bogut’s fortitude. Some currently with the organization have moved toward a similar assessment.
While they’re trying to make the best of this, knowing Bogut could be back for another season, the Warriors are doing what they can to get more out of the big man who was one of the pillars to their rise to the elite.
Drafting a rookie center may not help but it certainly won’t hurt.