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Andrew Bogut made his return to the N.B.A. on Wednesday, signing a rest-of-the-season contract to rejoin the Golden State Warriors. The reunion came two years to the day since Bogut, the former No. 1 overall selection in the 2005 draft, sustained a gruesome leg injury.
Bogut, 34, spent this season starring for the Sydney Kings in his native Australia and, by his own admission, was convinced “that the N.B.A. door had shut.”
But the Warriors began lobbying Bogut to rejoin them in December and made it to March with a roster opening for the 7-foot center, who wasn’t available to be signed until the Kings’ season ended last weekend.
“I was kind of blown away,” Bogut said in a telephone interview from Australia. “This wasn’t a situation where I threw my hat in the ring to try to get signed in the N.B.A. I wouldn’t do that.
“To come back to the N.B.A., for me, was basically Golden State or nothing. But the fact it was Golden State — it was the kind of opportunity that I would be kicking myself if I didn’t take.”
When Bogut signed a two-year deal with Sydney last April, he described it as “my official retirement from the N.B.A.” He proceeded to win Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year honors in Australia’s National Basketball League, averaging 11.4 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.7 blocks per game.
Bogut’s contract with Sydney does not contain an N.B.A. release clause, but he told the Warriors that he would entertain the prospect of rejoining them on a short-term basis after the Australian season — as long as Sydney officials blessed it — should Golden State still have a need.
Had the Warriors succeeded in landing a recent free agent from the so-called “buyout” market — such as the swingman Wesley Matthews, who opted to sign with Indiana after securing his release from the Knicks — they would have had no roster room for Bogut.
But once it became clear that the Chicago Bulls would refuse to release the veteran center Robin Lopez before March 1, thus missing deadline for Lopez to retain his playoff eligibility with a new team, Golden State intensified its pursuit of Bogut as soon as the Kings were eliminated from the N.B.L. playoffs.
As the Warriors continue to try to assimilate the former All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins into their rotation, Bogut said he had “no illusions” about the fact that “some games I’ll play and some games I won’t.” But Bogut insisted he was “happy to be a positive influence on that bench” no matter how much he plays.
The Warriors assistant general manager Larry Harris, who was Milwaukee’s general manager in 2005 when the Bucks selected Bogut with the top pick in the draft, made a recent scouting trip to Australia to assess the state of Bogut’s game firsthand and convey the seriousness of Golden State’s interest.
Warriors Coach Steve Kerr referred to Bogut as “an insurance policy in the frontcourt.” But Bogut’s defensive know-how and his familiarity with the Warriors’ star trio of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green certainly can’t hurt the league’s prohibitive championship favorites in the quest to improve on their woeful standing of 16th in defensive efficiency (109.5 points allowed per 100 possessions.)
“I didn’t foresee this happening but I’m excited as hell about it,” Green told Bay Area reporters. He and Bogut quickly meshed as co-anchors of a vaunted Golden State defense in 2014-15, when the Warriors began their five-season run of dominance.
After the Warriors won a league-record 73 games in 2015-16 but blew a 3-1 lead to the LeBron James-led Cavaliers in the N.B.A. finals, Bogut and the veteran forward Harrison Barnes were quickly jettisoned to Dallas to create the requisite salary-cap space for Golden State to sign Kevin Durant.
Bogut, though, said that returning to the Warriors nearly three years later to play alongside Durant would not “be weird” despite the contentious nature of his departure.
“The Golden State Warriors are a very special organization in my heart,” Bogut said. “I had a lot of great years there and won a championship. Even though they moved me, it was understandable to get a guy like Kevin Durant. I probably would have traded myself if I had the same opportunity.”
It was Bogut’s longtime agent, David Bauman of Independent Sports and Entertainment, who first pointed out to him that Wednesday’s signing with the Warriors coincided with the two-year anniversary of the fractured tibia in his left leg that Bogut sustained 56 seconds into his Cleveland Cavaliers debut in March 2017.
“It’s just funny how the world works sometimes,” Bogut said. “This is an unbelievable opportunity that I’m really thankful for.”