Before Steve Kerr came out to talk to reporters at the Warriors practice facility, general manager Bob Myers strolled onto the practice floor to provide an update on Jermaine O’Neal, who’s weighing whether or not to retire or come back for another season.
“He probably won’t be with us next year. He’s not going to camp. The reason is nothing detrimental in regards to him, but we just have three guys that we have at the position. So he’d be the fourth center,” Myers said. “Nothing negative, he was fantastic for us last season.”
The three centers Myers mentioned are Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli and Ognjen Kuzmic. The only one of those three who saw any time in the Warriors’ first round series against the Clippers was Kuzmic, who played eight minutes over three games.
Would O’Neal, who enjoyed more than a few very good games as a Warrior, really be behind Kuzmic on the depth chart? Uh, probably not. Myers’ announcement probably has more to do with how the Warriors can only offer O’Neal the veteran’s minimum, which is $1,448,490. O’Neal made $2 million last year.
The Warriors would probably rather see Ezeli take on the backup role than get whatever minutes Bogut and O’Neal couldn’t handle. Plus, Kerr sees big things for Bogut — and not just as a rim protecting defensive presence, either.
“Andrew’s one of the best passing centers in the league. He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. So for us to get him the ball on the elbow as a dribble handoff guy, backdoor pass guy, that will be emphasized,” said Kerr, who can probably be expected to bring some triangle concepts to the Warriors, along with some of the things Gregg Popovich does in San Antonio and, one would figure, a significant amount of pick-and-roll with Stephen Curry.
Bogut has averaged just 6.8 points per game since joining the Warriors, a far cry from his Milwaukee days. He averaged 12.7 ppg in 408 games with the Bucks, and Kerr sounds like he’d like to split the difference.
“I want to get him on the block, too. He can score down on the post. I will definitely ask him to be aggressive down on the block,” said Kerr, who almost sounded old school enough to wax poetic about the lost art of the sky hook.
“I believe in throwing the ball down into the post. I know the game has changed in the past six or eight years. A lot of teams are just spreading the floor and getting penetration through the dribble. I believe you’ve got to throw it into the post, especially if you’ve got a good passing big. And we have several. Andrew will be featured in our offense.”
He can only be featured if he’s healthy. Bogut played 67 games last year, marking just the third time he’s played over 60 games in the past six seasons. The fractured rib that kept him out of the playoffs is healed, but Bogut’s rough-and-tumble style means his next injury could be right around the corner.
Then there’s Ezeli, who missed the entire season after undergoing knee surgery. Now he’s dealing with “shin inflammation,” (or as I call it: shinflammation) and Kerr said today that Ezeli and Nemanja Nedovic would be eased into action on Tuesday, the first day of training camp. Last year the Warriors thought Ezeli would be back around December, then February or March, then maybe the playoffs, then …
After a lost year, Kerr and the Warriors sound cautiously optimistic that the center who started 41 games in his rookie year could pick up where he left off in 2013.
“He and (assistant coach) Ron Adams have developed a really good rapport. Ron is very high on Festus. The tape that I’ve watched confirms that Festus is strong. He’s a load down there. The biggest challenge for him is that he hasn’t played for over a year. He’s got to find his rhythm and it’s harder for big guys to get their rhythm. The game’s faster for the bigs than it is for the guards. So I think it’ll take some time for him to get his timing. But hopefully health-wise he’ll be fine,” said Kerr.
I asked Kerr about his thoughts on going small, and whether the Warriors would be able to withstand a loss at the center position. Because, well, it seems rather likely based on recent history that Bogut and/or Ezeli will have to miss some time in 2014-15. It’s well known that Joe Lacob wants to rule the NBA with size advantages at all the non-Curry positions, and Kerr is in lockstep with the owner on this one.
“I like to stay big as long as possible. If you look at the way the league has evolved over the last 10 years, there’s a ton of floor spacing, shooting bigs. And that means a lot of teams have gone small and it just opens up the floor, and if you don’t have rim protection, you’ve got guards flying in there and dunking. It compromises your defense so much. The longer we can stay big, the better. You also have to match up and you have to deal with health and whatever your roster looks like,” Kerr said.
“We anticipate that Festus can help us. We think Kuzmic can give us some minutes here and there. He’s a good defender himself. But that doesn’t mean you won’t see some smaller lineups because we have to deal with each game and each circumstance.”
So maybe we’ll see a hint of Nellie Ball here and there this season, but not much. If all goes according to Kerr’s plan, we’ll see a lot of Bogut doing things he hasn’t been known for since 2011.