Andrew Bogut's arrival in Golden State was heralded by a cascade of boos. He departs amid a chorus of ecstatic cheers.
From those two facts, you might think that he was a disappointing player, a malingerer, someone who played unprofessionally or loafed when he was hurt. You might think he was a player who struggled to make an impact on the court. You might think he was another in the Warriors' long history clunky, clueless centers.
You'd be wrong.
Andrew Bogut, in his time as a Warrior, was one of the toughest, smartest, and most professional players I've ever seen in a Warrior uniform. His intense, intelligent defense, hard picks, and willingness to play through pain helped set a tone for a team which won 140 games and a title over two seasons, all while playing some of the most beautiful basketball that's ever been played.
Andrew Bogut might be the best shot-blocker I've ever seen. He's not the most athletic (maybe he was, earlier in his career, before the knee injury slowed him down) but he made up for it with a phenomenal sense of timing. He knew exactly when to jump to challenge a shot. He also knew that you didn't get extra points for swatting a shot into the third row of seats. Bogut blocked shots with just enough force to stop them, and frequently steered the blocked shot to his teammates, or to an open space on the floor, launching the vaunted Warriors fast break.
And somehow the big aussie piled up blocks without ever taking himself out of position. Watch DeAndre Jordan or Dwight Howard, and you'll see a center who blocks a lot of shots, but also creates an ocean of space behind them on the shots they challenge but miss. Any rim protector is vulnerable to a smart driver who waits for him to commit and then dishes to the open big man, but Andrew made those dishes harder because he waited until the last possible second to challenge the shot.
The ultimate example of this happened during his first season with the Warriors. Carrying extra weight, and on a balky knee which had undergone micro-fracture surgery in the offseason, Bogut blocked a shot, then somehow got back into position to draw a charge ... on the same play. I don't think I've ever seen another player pull that off. It was quintessential Andrew Bogut: gritting through pain, perfect timing, intense hustle, and ending up with the big man landing hard on the floor. You can't ask for more than that on defense.
On offense, obviously, Andrew's been limited ever since his elbow was shattered, but he still found ways to contribute. His exquisite passing became less important as Draymond Green developed as a ball handler, but the team still relied on him for powerful, effective picks. When he was required to make sharp passes, he inevitably made the right ones through tiny seams.
And you can't talk about Bogut without talking about his professionalism. Make no mistake, he played through pain. You could see it when he'd hobble down the court during a dead ball, only to spring back into action when the ball went live. When Steve Kerr told him we didn't need him in the finals, there were no complaints. Bogut had done his work for the team in the earlier rounds, and if getting a title meant starting Andre Iguodala, then Bogut was fine with starting Iguodala, and the Warriors got a well-deserved ring as a result.
Recognizing his own limitations, the Big Aussie had even indicated a willingness to stick around on a reduced salary on a reduced role going forward. He wanted to be part of this team. He wanted to help us win. Giving that up is, honestly, one of the most painful parts of watching him strip the Warrior logos from his twitter feed as he prepares for an inevitable departure. (The team appears to be trying to do right by him, trying to send him to his choice of destinations; a nice classy move from Myers and company).
The Warriors will miss Bogut's presence inside, and his toughness. They'll miss his elite rim protection. Post-game interviews will be a little less fun without Andrew's playful, truth-telling jabs.
But true Warrior fans should never forget that Bogut was a big part of the team winning it's first title in 40 years. He was a huge part of the transformation of the Cohan-era laughing stock to the Lacob-West-Myers juggernaut. He was a big part of why the Warriors weren't just a "jump-shooting team." His play was a huge part of winning playoff series against Denver, Houston, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, and Memphis, and it should be pointed out that the team never lost a playoff series when he was healthy.
Injuries are, of course, the fly in the ointment. Bogut's tough style of play and willingness to put his body on the line resulted in more than his fair share. The cruel insult added to Bogut's finals injury is that it probably cost the Warriors the title, which opened the door for Kevin Durant to come to the bay area, which meant that Bogut had to leave.
Bogut will be 32 next season, and it'll be an old 32 given the number and variety of injuries he's had. In the playoffs, teams have figured out that if you have an elite shooter, you can get space by running a pick and roll with Bogut's man, since he can't come all the way out to challenge the shot and still recover. He didn't quite play 21 minutes a game this year, and it's hard to see that number climbing. Teams were starting to realize that they could leave him in space, doubling with his defender, and force the Warriors to play 4-on-5 on offense.
So it's easy to understand why the team chose to let him go once it was clear that Kevin Durant was available. The opportunity to run a lineup of Curry-Klay-Iguodala-KD-Draymond is too tempting to pass up. But the team will have issues at center even assuming it can pick up some minimum-salary help at the position. The extra offense will help, but make no mistake, there will be times when we will all miss Andrew's ability to erase mistakes by perimeter defenders.
So in our anticipatory ecstasy for the beautiful basketball yet to come, let's make sure to take a moment to appreciate Andrew Bogut. The man was a Warrior in every sense of the word, a credit to the game of basketball, and will be an asset to his future teams.
Fare thee well, Andrew. You'll be missed.