For the third time in as many seasons, Andrew Bogut is finishing the season on the sidelines, left to watch his teammates wrap up a disappointing year and wonder how things went so wrong. Thankfully, time off is also exactly what Bogut needs to get back to his best.
The Bucks announced on Saturday that Bogut would undergo arthroscopic surgery on Tuesday to "remove loose particles and scar tissue" in his right elbow, just over a year after he sustained his horrific fall against the Phoenix Suns. The surgery will be performed by Dr. James Andrews, arguably the most famed orthopedist in sports, and is considered relatively minor compared to what Bogut went through last spring after fracturing his hand, spraining his wrist, and dislocating the elbow. Appearing Friday on WSSP, Bogut described his upcoming rehab as around a month and a half, after which he'll spend the summer working on his game and trying to regain full flexibility in the arm.
That all sounds promising, but the $60 million question remains: will Bogut finally be close to 100% next fall?
As much as it seems like a reasonable goal, you'd forgive Bucks fans for betting on Bogut's return to form quite yet--not after how challenging and unpredictable his recovery (or lack thereof) was over the last year. Consider Bogut's own comments during the Bucks' post-season media session on May 3, 2010, a month after the initial injury.
It's going to depend on how the finger heals now. The elbow is pretty much healed, I'm just getting the swelling down. The wrist feels good already. It feels like it's healed. The finger is the thing that worries the doctors because of the ligaments. There's a slight percentage chance that it can re-break very easily. It's a slight percentage, like five percent, but they say that there's a chance of that happening so they are kind of worried about me trying to push myself the first couple of weeks. Whether that's into June or early July, we don't know. I'll definitely be back in with a solid two months of basketball training before coming to Milwaukee.
Despite the early optimism, Bogut sounded the alarms over the summer that the elbow was in fact not progressing as anticipated, leading to some lively discussion here and elsewhere as to whether the Bucks should even bother playing Bogut before he was 100%. In hindsight, it remains unclear if playing Bogut from day one was the right move. Presumably the Bucks wouldn't have unduly risked further re-injury, and it's hardly clear that another month of rest could have gotten him to the point where he would have been his old self.
At this point all we can do is speculate, though given the Bucks' disappointing season it's hard to say risking Bogut's long-term health was worth it--doubly so if he's not ready to go next fall. Seeking to allay some of those fears, John Hammond recently offered some reassurance to SI's Ian Thomsen that the Bucks knew what they were doing in letting Bogut play through pain.
"It wasn't anything we didn't expect from medical standpoint. Guys who have microfracture surgery or a hip surgery or an injury like he had, you can see they have to play through almost an entire season before you become so-called right. It's almost as if he has been going through a year of rehab during the season."
Not that the big man didn't make an impact on the court, bum arm and all. Though Bogut struggled mightily from the line and never found the offensive consistency or efficiency he showed in 09/10, his defensive impact was nothing short of immense. Playing a career-high 35.3 mpg, the Aussie is virtually assured of leading the league in shot-blocking and would have finished sixth in the league in rebounding had he played enough games to qualify, anchoring a Bucks defense that ranked in the top five all season.
Drafted on his promise as a skilled post scorer and passer, the 10/11 version of Bogut was ironically more Ben Wallace than Vlade Divac--a monster on the boards and a deft shot-blocker, but also one of the least efficient scoring big men in the game. His inability to fully extend his right arm wrecked his already mediocre form at the free throw line and forced him to be increasingly reliant on his excellent left hand in the post, robbing him of much of his scoring effectiveness. There were certainly flashes of the old Bogut, but assorted other injuries (back, knee, migraines, and a mystery virus) only further exacerbated a clear lack of confidence in his dominant hand.
While Bogut's durability will be a major question mark for the foreseeable future, the fact that he remained such an impact player while struggling with both his health and confidence is a testament to both his toughness and versatility. But it should also provide Bucks fans a needed dose of optimism as we head into a summer clouded by the possibility of a lockout. Though there remains a huge chasm between Dwight Howard and every other center in the NBA, Bogut has shown all the tools needed to lead the pack of big men vying for the title of second best center in the NBA. Now it's a matter of getting healthy.
That's also why Bogut remains the Bucks' most valuable asset by a wide margin. While Brandon Jennings hints at his potential with a terrific game every week or two, Bogut has already proven he can be an All-NBA and All-Defensive caliber center over a full season (two seasons in the case of the latter). He's no superstar, but with Bogut it's a matter of getting healthy and back to where he was--not speculating about whether he can take a major leap forward. Combine that with his proven dedication to staying in Milwaukee and you have a guy who the Bucks can't really afford to trade--especially not now with his value relatively low.
Unfortunately, all we can do now is patiently wait. For Bogut to heal, for a new CBA to be negotiated, and for a new season to begin.