Xtra Points: Bogut's return raises what-if question
It doesn't take much to alter the course of a sports franchise's history.
In the case of the Milwaukee Bucks and Andrew Bogut, who returns to the Bradley Center tonight with the Golden State Warriors, all it took was one breakaway slam dunk that went horribly, horribly wrong.
The 2009-10 Milwaukee Bucks season was an unexpectedly successful one. First-round draft pick Brandon Jennings was playing like the steal of the draft. As a point guard, he started all 82 games as a rookie and averaged 15.5 points and 5.7 assists per game.
Former No. 1 overall pick Bogut was more or less healthy and finally playing like one of the best centers in the NBA. His shortened season saw him average a double-double (15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds a night) with 2.5 blocks a game.
Shooting guard John Salmons, acquired in a trade with the Chicago Bulls, played the best ball of his career with the Bucks that year, averaging 19.9 points a game to lead the team. Veterans Jerry Stackhouse and Kurt Thomas provided the kind of veteran leadership teams need in the playoffs.
As a team, the Bucks were among the best in the NBA on defense, allowing just 96 points per game (seventh in the league) under hard-as-nails head coach Scott Skiles.
Then came a visit from the Phoenix Suns on April 3, 2010, the seventh-to-last game of the regular season.
The Bucks won the game 107-98, but it was a play in the second quarter that changed everything for Milwaukee that year—and perhaps for years into the future.
The play in question: Carlos Delfino grabbed an Amare Stoudamire miss, and Bogut ran down the middle of the floor. Delfino passed the length of the court to the lumbering center, who went up and dunked it for an emphatic two points. Trailing Bogut, Stoudamire made contact with the airborne player, sending the Bucks' big man tumbling to the floor.
If you've ever seen the play, you know what happened next. If you haven't, I won't link you to the gruesome YouTube clip, but I'll tell you that I would put it up against any ugly sports injury you could think of.
The final damage included a broken hand, a dislocated elbow and sprained wrist in his shooting arm.
In the playoffs that year, the Bucks fell to the Atlanta Hawks in seven games without Bogut. He healed in time to start the 2010-11 season, but he clearly wasn't the same player on offense. In the season of the injury, Bogut shot 52 percent from the field and 62.9 percent from the free-throw line in averaging 17.7 points per game. The year he came back, he shot 49.5 percent from the floor and 44.2 percent from the free-throw line with a 13-point average per game.
The Bucks eventually traded Bogut to Golden State during the 2011-12 season for Monta Ellis.
It's a sad saga that hurt the Bucks in a lot of ways, in both the short-term and the long. In the short-term, Bogut was having a breakout season in that year of fearing the deer, and the Bucks were one of the league's best defensive teams with him on the floor.
In the long-term, the Bogut-Jennings playing relationship was cut way too short. They were a potent pick-and-roll duo for Milwaukee and might still be had Bogut not shattered his arm.
The injury (and another he suffered the year he was traded) made Bogut expendable, and the centerpiece on the other side of the trade, Ellis, is no longer with the Bucks after contributing to a poisonous locker room environment at the end of last season. And while many things probably went into Jennings' desire to leave Milwaukee when he came up for restricted free agency last offseason, the absence of an established center probably didn't help.
I can't help but think that, had Bogut not suffered the injury he did that night in April, the state of the Bucks in January 2014 would be totally different.
Instead of a team with the worst record in the league, Milwaukee might be watching a team on the rise, with Brandon Jennings hitting jump shots or sending bounce passes to a diving Bogut off the pick-and-roll. And instead of facing the very real prospect of relocation, the pro basketball future of Milwaukee and Wisconsin might be far more secure than it is today.
Haiku of the week
Hawkeyes test Badgers
'til Fran goes berserk on refs.
Thanks for the free throws!
Email Tim Seeman at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter (@Tim_Seeman).