MILWAUKEE — As Andrew Bogut sat on the bus Friday night while his Golden State Warriors made their way from Chicago to Milwaukee, seven years of his life ran through his head.
The bus ride suddenly became nostalgic when Bogut peered out the window and saw a sign that read, “Welcome to Wisconsin.”
“Ups and downs, good and bad,” Bogut said of his time in Milwaukee. “Rookie year was awesome. Being one of three to make the playoffs was great. The ‘Fear the Deer’ year was great. Everything in between wasn’t so good.
“I kind of grew from a boy to a man while I was in Milwaukee. It will always be a special place in my heart. It was somewhat sad moment when I was sitting on the bus thinking about it.”
Bogut was back in the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Saturday for the first time since the blockbuster trade that sent the 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick and Stephen Jackson to Golden State for Monta Ellis, Ekpe Udoh and Kwame Brown on March 13. However, this wasn’t how his return was supposed to go.
Instead of assuming his place in Golden State’s starting lineup and hearing an ovation as his name is called, Bogut was left with a gathering of Bucks fans watching him go through a pregame workout as he continues his recovery from an ankle injury that was the beginning of the end of his career in Milwaukee.
Bogut fractured his ankle one year and one day ago in Houston, and that turned out to be his final game in a Bucks uniform. The 7-foot center has played in just four games for the Warriors since the trade, all at the start of this season. Bogut had one surgery in January, then endured microfracture surgery in April.
After struggling early this season, Bogut and the Warriors decided taking a break was the best path to future success. He hasn’t spoken with Bay Area reporters since Nov. 28 as he tries to work his way back to the court.
“It’s definitely taken longer than we expected,” Bogut said. “I tried to give it a go at the start of the season, and it blew up. I lost my mobility and flexibility in November and decided it’s smarter to try to be back for the long haul rather than try to play in five-game increments and have to take time off.
“It’s frustrating. Nobody wants to be hurt. I don’t want to be hurt. At the same time, I have no choice but to go through this process diligently, do the right things and come back strong.”
The ankle was just one of two major injuries Bogut suffered with the Bucks.
On April 3, 2010, Bogut threw down a fast-break dunk off a long outlet pass. As he hung on the rim, former Suns forward Amar’e Stoudemire hit him in the back and Bogut fell hard to the floor. The result was a dislocated elbow, broken wrist and sprained wrist. Playing his best basketball of his career at the time – averaging 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds – Bogut didn’t get to play in the 2010 playoffs with his team and was never the same player again.
He acknowledged Saturday doctors told him after the injury that it would take him almost two years before he didn’t feel pain in his elbow. Bogut has had two surgeries on the elbow, and he said it’s finally starting to feel healthy almost three years after the injury.
“Am I injury-prone? Yes,” said Bogut, 28. “I’m injury-prone that I’ve had some gruesome injuries that I cannot control. I’ve never had a soft tissue injury due to the lack of conditioning or lack of fitness.
“It’s just two unfortunate events that have taken years off my career, as far as playing.”
With the Bucks taking Atlanta to Game 7 in the first round of the 2010 playoffs without Bogut, he said he often thinks he could have helped the team get over the hump. In fact, Bogut wonders at times what could have been in Milwaukee if the elbow injury didn’t derail him at the peak of his career.
“But at the same time, I can’t sit and mope about it and sit at home saying, ‘What if? What if? What if?’ ” Bogut said. “I’ve tried to rehab that to the best of my ability, and I’m doing the same with my ankle.”
Without Bogut, Golden State has been one of the league’s surprises. The Warriors have started 26-16 behind All-Star forward David Lee and the young guard duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Because the Warriors have been winning, Bogut has had an easier time not feeling the need to rush back.
“If we were losing right now, it’d be different,” he said. “… When we start to win games, it definitely helps my sanity, but at the same time it’s frustrating. The questions are always asked every day. It’s just something I have to deal with.”
Though his mind is focused on other things, Bogut still keeps tabs on his former team – mainly because of friendships with players still on the roster. When asked about his reaction to the Bucks parting ways with coach Scott Skiles, Bogut responded, “They did? When did that happen?”
Joking aside, Bogut had plenty of praise for Skiles.
“A lot of people think that we really didn’t have a great relationship, but we did,” Bogut said. “We had run-ins like any player and coach. I think you have to have those to demand the best out of each other. Defensively, he really taught me how to be a good defender as a big man.
“What I learned with Coach Skiles is how to affect the basketball game without the ball, which is something I couldn’t do my first two to three years in the league. I would have moped and been angry if I wasn’t getting touches. With Coach, I might have got one touch a quarter, but I would still affect the game.”
After the ankle injury last January, Bogut knew there was a good chance his time in Milwaukee was running short. He was told by Bucks management and his agent that a deal was on the table. He understood Milwaukee was trying to make a playoff push and said if he were GM John Hammond, he would have done the same thing.
“I was ready to go, but I wasn’t,” Bogut said. “I wasn’t stomping my feet to get traded from this city. It wasn’t a situation where I was saying get me the (heck) out of here.
“Off the court, I didn’t have a problem with anybody. I love this city, the people. There were some tough times on the court, but other than that, it was what it was. If I stayed, I wouldn’t have had a problem; if I left, I wouldn’t have had a problem.”
Though he’s been out, Bogut sees a future with the Warriors. At $13.2 million per year, he is Golden State’s highest-paid player and will be again next season in the final year of a five-year contract he signed with the Bucks in 2008.
“We know when he’s healthy and on the floor, there is no question he is going to help us and make us a better basketball team,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “We know exactly who he is and what he brings to the table, and it’s going to be a tremendous upgrade at that position.”