Andrew Bogut walked around the Golden State Warriors’ practice facility in flip-flops Friday, smiling and cracking jokes with reporters he had not seen since May.
Back then, Bogut hobbled around with heavily taped ankles. He winced in pain every time he took a step, and he brushed off the constant questions about his health.
”I’m excited, man,” he said.
After splitting time this summer with family in Australia and Croatia, Bogut said he’s ”100 percent” healthy and feeling the best he has since fracturing his left ankle in January 2012. He also said he has not been limited in any workouts since July and expects ”to play a lot of minutes” this season – the final year of his five-year, $60 million contract.
”The most important thing is not having a trainer or coach tell you that there are restrictions on what you’re doing,” Bogut said. ”I can come in here and do what I want. I can come in here and run. I can condition. I can lift. I can shoot. I can play five-on-five and nobody can tell me I can only do one set or play 20 minutes. I have none of that right now and I’m not going to have any of that during the season.”
Bogut missed 50 of 82 games during the regular season, mostly because of soreness in his surgically repaired left ankle. He also battled back and knee injuries while averaging a career-low 5.8 points to go with 7.7 rebounds.
But Bogut played his best in the playoffs despite his limitations. He made all the difference on defense and turned in an unforgettable performance – 21 rebounds, 14 points, four blocks and three assists – in the Game 6 clincher against Denver in the first round, fighting through pain until the San Antonio Spurs eliminated the Warriors in six games in the second round.
”Last season, I put the ball in the post and it was lumber, lumber, lumber, bounce, bounce, bounce, shoot,” Bogut said. ”Because I got to be honest, I couldn’t make quick moves on my ankle or it’d give out or I’d fall over. So I tried not to do too much. Now I’m back to a point where I can make quick moves and go off the dribble.”
Bogut spent the first part of the summer in Australia rehabbing his lower body and working with youth at his basketball academy.
The 7-footer took two weeks off from any basketball activities but never stopped his rehabilitation exercises. He worked his way back slowly by doing non-impact activities such as riding a bike or boxing drills that kept him in shape without putting strain on his ankle.
When the wet and rainy winter Down Under intensified, Bogut boarded a flight to the warmer climate of Croatia, where Warriors head athletic trainer JoHan Wang spent above five days with him last month. Bogut said most days included working out for about four hours in the morning, eating lunch, getting treatment and then relaxing at the beach until dusk.
There was still at least one distraction no matter where he went.
Bogut couldn’t help but keep an eye on NBA free agency as the Warriors flirted with Dwight Howard, who eventually signed with the Houston Rockets. He said he didn’t take it ”too personal” that the Warriors sought the center’s services because ”right now Dwight is a better player than I am.”
Instead, he tried to laugh off all the media coverage and tried not to worry.
”I think Dwight created a bit of a circus with it all,” Bogut said. ”He wanted to get his 5 minutes.”
Staying healthy will be paramount for Bogut and the Warriors this season.
Golden State, which finished 47-35 to earn the Western Conference’s sixth seed last season, is hoping to be a serious championship contender. All five starters – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, David Lee and Bogut – are back along with prized free agent signing Andre Iguodala, who will likely start at small forward in Barnes’ place.
For the first time since Milwaukee made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NBA draft, Bogut is entering a season without a contract for the next one. He said he isn’t worried about an extension and hasn’t thought about how long he’ll play.
For now, he’s just happy to be healthy again and participating in voluntary team workouts before training camp begins Sept. 29.
”It was hell for me the last 12 months, to be honest,” Bogut said. ”I’m just happy that that light is getting brighter and brighter for me in the tunnel and it’s at the stage now where I feel like I’m driving out of that tunnel.”