When the Golden State Warriors traded high-volume scorer Monta Ellis for defense-first center Andrew Bogut in March 2012, it signaled the franchise's intent to recast its identity as that of a more professional outfit focused on efficiency and what's historically been known as winning basketball. While Bogut didn't play at all in 2011-12 for the Warriors and managed only 32 games last season, it's safe to say that the gambit worked. Golden State had its most successful season in several years, winning 47 games and a playoff series and announcing to the league that it would be a force with which to be reckoned. After adding Andre Iguodala in free agency this summer, the Warriors are a dark-horse pick to challenge for the conference title in 2013-14.
The question for the team, though, has been how to handle Bogut's situation moving forward. A free agent next summer, Bogut is still a fantastic defensive center when healthy and a fairly essential part of any scenario in which the Warriors maraud through the West this season. On the other hand, he hasn't played 70 games since 2007-08. Would it make more sense to work out an extension now or wait until next summer, when any team could bid for his services?
On Friday, the Warriors answered that question by handing Bogut a three-year, $36-million extension with incentives that could raise the total to as high as $42 million. Yahoo's own Adrian Wojnarowski has the report:
If Bogut stays on the floor and performs as a top-seven center in the NBA, he's likely to reach the bonus incentives that could push the deal to approximately $42 million, league sources told Yahoo Sports. The signing will be announced at a news conference Friday night.
After fighting injuries over the past few years, Bogut was traded to the Warriors in March 2012 and has become an integral part of a core the organization believes can eventually push for championship contention. [...]
The Warriors didn't want to risk the consequences of a healthy, productive 2013-14 season making Bogut the most attractive free-agent center on the market next summer. The Warriors have several key players – including Bogut, guard Stephen Curry and forward Andre Iguodala – locked into long-term deals now.
The risk here is exactly as Woj states. At only 28 years old, Bogut is still young enough that a fantastic, relatively injury-free season would likely raise his value over the $42 million ceiling of this extension. Plus, there's no telling what the lack of an extension could do to Bogut's long-term attitude towards the Warriors — it's possible that he'd take it as a show of disrespect (however minor) and become more interested in other offers next summer. On the other hand, it's also possible that Bogut misses considerable time this season, validates the growing feeling that he's injury-prone (even if he rejects the designation, which is hard to define to begin with), and this $12-million-per-annum salary looks like an albatross.
As with any risk-reward situation, the debate here depends on the apparent likelihood of each situation. Frankly, the Warriors have probably erred on the side of caution. As noted by Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com, Bogut has played 3,447 minutes in the last three seasons (2,297 of which occurred in 2010-11), which would place 47th on the NBA's all-time single-season list. That's just not a lot of playing time, to the point where reversing the trend would seem unlikely if only because recent major injuries can have a widespread effect on a player's body. In signing Bogut to this extension, the Warriors have gambled on his returning to a level of health he hasn't seen in quite some time. Injury-prone or not, there aren't many data points to support that conclusion.
Yet there's a difference between optimism and cautious hope, and chances are the Warriors are smart enough to know they're engaging in the latter. This extension does not exist in a vacuum, but in relation to the other options available to them. With second-year backup Festus Ezeli largely unproven (and out for a few months) and no clearly superior free agents available next summer, Golden State is assessing the opportunity cost of not signing Bogut regardless of how many games he can play over the next four seasons. Not having him would hurt their chances of contending significantly, and that's a trade-off they're not willing to make.
What that means, of course, is that the Warriors have limited their options to improve in coming seasons. With shooting guard Klay Thompson up for an extension next summer, the front office would seem able to improve the roster through a trade involving him, Harrison Barnes, or David Lee for the next few years. (It should also be stated that the Warriors now look even smarter for penning Stephen Curry to an extension last summer before his breakout 2012-13 campaign.) Any such trade would be a strong statement of intent, a sign that the organization is serious about getting better by any means necessary.
The Bogut extension, then, is not just a deal in isolation, but a mark of the Warriors' new approach to building a winner. They've tasted success, and they're not willing to settle. Why be entirely prudent when the opportunity is there?
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