Since Joe Lacob took over as owner of the Golden State Warriors, he has professed a desire to turn the franchise into a more stable, defensive-oriented club that can become a perennial playoff team and begin moving towards the upper echelon of the league. The club's biggest move towards that goal, by a wide margin, has been trading for stellar defensive center Andrew Bogut last March. Bogut was set to miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury when the deal was made, but it was generally accepted that he'd have his standard surgery and return to lead the Warriors in 2012-13.
Injury rehab often doesn't go as planned, and Bogut has played in only four games for an average of 18.3 minutes. Nearly three weeks ago, the Warriors announced that they would shut him down for a week or so in order to let him heal, but that timetable has stretched considerably. It seems as if every time the Warriors announce a new target date for Bogut's return, he ends up missing more games than planned.
It turns out that there could be a very good reason for those delays. According to Bogut, his April surgery wasn't a simple fix, but a microfracture procedure. Not surprisingly, he's a little ticked that the Warriors aren't being honest about his condition. From Rusty Simmons for the San Francisco Chronicle:
Center Andrew Bogut won't return from left ankle rehabilitation this week as the Warriors anticipated, and he's getting increasingly frustrated by the team's continued drumming up of expectations.
This all seems to stem from the team claiming that he had minor arthroscopic surgery in April, a procedure that he says wasn't so minor.
The 7-footer said he had microfracture surgery, a much more serious procedure, and there's still way too much swelling to engage in strenuous activity. Playing in Saturday's game against Indiana, he says, is absolutely out of the question.
"It's frustrating," said Bogut, who addressed the media Tuesday after missing consecutive practices in which the team had said he was likely to participate. "People look at you and think, 'Why are you still hurting? It's just an ankle.' That's the feeling I get sometimes. ... You feel like you're letting down the team, the fans and the organization." [...]
"I'm still a little ways off. It's an interesting rehab, because there's no real timeline for it. I'll be back when I'm ready to play at 100 percent." [...]
Microfracture recovery can take up to a year, but the Warriors maintain that Bogut's was so minor that the need wasn't detected even by X-rays. They say it wasn't until the surgery started that microfracture was considered, and they stand by their original six-month rehabilitation prognosis.
This is bad news for the Warriors, who have actually played quite well in Bogut's absence, but also nothing new to the NBA world. Returns from injuries often take longer than anticipated, because recovery times are not uniform. Estimates are just that, and treating them as deadlines or future facts is irresponsible.
The problem here is that the Warriors kept setting Bogut up for disappointment. They can claim that Bogut's microfracture surgery was minor, but the details they've given don't seem like proof. For instance, Greg Oden's first microfracture surgery was only decided upon when the arthroscopic procedure began, and that knocked him out for a year of action and derailed his career indefinitely. Downplaying the severity of any major injury, especially for a big man, is a major problem. These things take time to heal, and acting as if players can be rushed back flies in the face of years of evidence.
Plus, it's unclear exactly what the Warriors gained from announcing shorter recovery times. While the trade for Bogut was somewhat controversial, extending his estimated date of return once a week makes his missing games even more disappointing. And though Bogut has been a major part of the team's marketing push since his arrival — and therefore a reason to buy tickets — the team's ad campaigns have emphasized the hard work behind the scenes that produces the glitz and glamor of the NBA experience. Why try to cut corners here when every other claim focuses on gritting out every day?
The short-term benefits of optimistic rehab estimates are present, but failing to meet those goals also breeds long-term resentment and a lack of belief. In short, it makes fans feel like the team is lying to them. Over time, it becomes harder to trust the ownership group, which also means it's easy to think they're not the right people to lead the team to greater success. Warriors fans know this experience because Chris Cohan, Lacob's predecessor, led an organization for which it was the norm. Lacob has always claimed to be a different person — and he largely is, even if the differences aren't all improvements — but this is one thing their administrations appear to have in common.
Bogut is injured and will continue to miss time until he's 100 percent. If trading for him was a long-term decision, then the Warriors need to commit to his ability to play for years, not just in this season. If that means missing extended time, then they should admit as much in public. When Lacob took over, many fans were excited because they thought they might finally get treated like adults. Hearing more of the same feels even worse.