On April 22nd, 2018, the NBL landscape was rocked to its core. This was the day news broke, on former number one overall NBA draft pick and Australian basketball legend, Andrew Bogut agreeing to sign with the Sydney Kings.
It came as somewhat of a shock, though Bogut had already previously withdrawn his name from landing on a potential NBA roster due to personal reasons in late March. Andrew's grandfather passed away in February, prompting his return to Australia whilst rumours ran rampant that he was close to signing with a playoff contender in the NBA. With other personal factors at play, Bogut decided to re-ignite his stellar career on home soil with the Kings, in what has been an incredible coup for the struggling NBL franchise.
Despite boasting one of the league's most talented rosters, the Kings languished near the bottom of the table with an 11-17 record in 2018. Bogut's addition automatically propels the Kings into championship contention, but it should not be lost on anyone how strong the Kings' retooled roster is, with former MVP's Jerome 'Handle' Randle and Kevin Lisch joined by Brad Newley, Perry Ellis and Dane Pineau.
Looking ahead with the Kings
In an exclusive chat with The Pick and Roll, the newly-minted Sydney King was typically straight down the line, when giving his assessment of the expectations looking ahead to the season.
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 24: Andrew Bogut poses for photographs with a Kings singlet as he is unveiled as a Sydney Kings player at Qudos Bank Arena on April 24, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images via NBL)
"We're trying to win. The expectation is the Kings have had a talented roster over the last two or three years and have not delivered; even without myself, I think it’s a very competitive roster," Bogut explained. "There is added pressure for everybody and I think that’s a good thing for us.
"We have to go in with the mindset of trying to win and get to the playoffs and then hopefully a final."
Lofty expectations to be sure, but they appear on the surface to be totally realistic. With only eight teams in the NBL, the difference between making or missing the playoffs can be slim. Last season's struggles were largely a defensive issue for Andrew Gaze's squad, as they finished in seventh position despite scoring the fourth-highest aggregate point total in the league, thanks to a leaky defense that gave up the third-most points on the season.
With offensive firepower across the roster, the addition of Bogut's perennially stellar defensive positioning, rebounding and rim protection could markedly improve the Kings on that end of the floor. Over his 694-game NBA career, Bogut reeled in 6057 rebounds, whilst terrorising opposition attackers by swatting 1083 shots.
The ever-present road block that has unfortunately too often been at the forefront with Bogut is health. You can probably imagine any injury possible in the game of basketball, and big Bogues has probably had it. A lower back fracture forced Bogut to miss 31 games in 2008/09. Then there was the career trajectory-altering hand, wrist and arm break in 2010 on a fast break dunk attempt, that still causes him pain to this day. The fractured ankle the following season that ended up being his last ever game with Milwaukee. The hyper-extended knee in the 2016 NBA Finals, and finally the broken leg last season that occurred just seconds into his Cleveland Cavaliers stint and ended his 2017 campaign. Incredibly, these were just a few of the major ailments to have curtailed Bogut during his NBA career. The fact he was able to continually rebound and play at a high level is not only a testament to his physical preparation, but his mental strength to boot.
On only one occasion (his rookie year) did Bogut suit up for all 82 games on the NBA schedule and in eleven out of the other twelve seasons he was sidelined for at least twelve contests.
Given those numbers, the NBL's friendly schedule of 28 games --consisting of zero back-to-backs and offering up to a week off at a time-- was an added attraction for Bogut, who still has the competitive fire in him to grace the court for years to come.
"[The schedule] played a huge part in [my decision]," Bogut admitted. "With my injury history, I thought playing less games for my body will give me some more years down the track and obviously help keep me healthy for the World Cup and the Olympics. When I weighed up all the pros and cons of staying here, there were definitely far more pros and that was one of them."
The overwhelming feeling you get when listening to Bogut speak about the signing, is his steadfast intentions to stick around the Australian basketball scene for the long term. He has no NBA out clause, he is not here as a stopover to part deux of his NBA career. He is here to stay, and views himself as a key piece of the Kings and national team through the 2020 Olympics.
On the Boomers and World Cup qualifiers
During our conversation he did reveal that he will certainly not be taking part in the Boomers' June/July World Cup qualifiers in the Philippines and Japan. That certainly is not through a lack of preparation, he simply wants to keep himself in the best shape possible for the upcoming season.
"I’m training five days a week at the moment, trying to work on my body to get strong for the season," Bogut confirmed. "There’s no issues right now, so touch wood I’ll come into the season 110% and be ready for camp in August."
With his on-court intentions abundantly clear, I was curious to dive into the other major revelation of the Kings deal: part ownership of the franchise. Bogut's contract with the Kings includes a 10 percent minority ownership, with the potential to own up to 50 percent of the franchise when his contract ends.
As it turns out, sinking his teeth into the off-court action of basketball has been a long-standing ambition for Bogut, who explained his thought process on venturing down this path.
"The league's starting to get healthy and I’ll be able to see that first hand with the profit and loss sheet. [I'll be able to] see how many fans are getting through the door, how much our sponsors are paying, how much we’re losing and what we’re gaining," He explained. "So when you can see those types of things, it may give [me] more confidence to stay with the Kings down the track as an owner for the rest of my life, but it might also show me that it’s not what it’s cracked up to be."
Clearing up the Essendon rumours
Previous to that deal coming to fruition in Sydney, the rumours were swirling that the AFL team he supports, Essendon, may have been circling Bogut's name, as their future ambition to own an NBL franchise gathered steam. When asked how attractive the thought of donning the red and black was as a lifelong Bombers fan, Bogut was able to shed some light on the rumours and the depth of those discussions.
"I had some early discussions, but it was way too early with Essendon," Bogut revealed. "They are still a year or two away from coming into the league and my decision was to come back this season, so I wasn’t prepared to wait that thing out."
At 33 years old, Bogut is living in the now. He's ready to come back to Australia and contribute right away with a monster 24-36 month period, ahead of the national team's Tokyo 2020 goal.
"It was basically [Essendon saying], 'Look, towards the end of your career when you’re looking to come back, we definitely want to be one of the clubs if we get an NBL license,' but they still have a lot to go through to get a franchise in the NBL."
When combined with the comments about assessing the Sydney ownership situation in the future, the door is certainly left ajar for Bogut to be poached, if the timing is right. This is a new, unfamiliar role for an athlete that has conducted his best work on the hardwood for the better part of a decade and a half.
However, what strikingly stands out when talking with Bogut is his passion for the game, especially in Australia, and the responsibility he feels not only to complete his own personal career goals, but to ensure the game is left in the best possible position as the transition to an off-court role comes to the forefront.
On where the game needs to be headed
When asked where the growth needs to come for not only the Kings to prosper but the Australian game in general, he responded without hesitation.
"It’s an exciting time for the national team. [The talent] we have right now, it’s going to be the first time we have more than a starting five of NBA players and possibly two or three years down the track, it will be a whole squad of NBA players. We’re in the boom time of Australian basketball right now, that’s not arguable, it’s fact," He stated. "We’ve just got to make sure we aren’t complacent with [success], we need to keep the kids coming through and not be happy with what we’ve achieved, especially development-wise from a junior level."
Several times through our chat, he was quick to repeat the same sentiment. The game is on the rise in Australia. We just witnessed seven Australians strutting their stuff in the NBA playoffs, and all seven Aussie stars are set to join forces with Bogut on an all-out assault on achieving World Cup and Olympic medals. This greater goal of national team success is driving Bogut, but so is domestic success, and he has wasted no time in sinking his teeth into Sydney's roster configuration with head coach Andrew Gaze.
"I’ve been in touch, texting back and forth about potential prospects to fill out our roster," Bogut revealed. "We’ve signed another kid, Deng Deng, a really athletic kid, Sudanese-Australian, he’s very athletic and long. We’ve got three or four roster spots left to fill as well so i’m in touch with the GM Jeff Van Groningen and Andrew a lot leading up to who we [sign]."
What about that bridge climb?
It's abundantly clear that Bogut is all hands on deck out of the blocks in his latest venture, but what about away from the business? Has he had a chance to take that Sydney Harbour Bridge climb yet?
"Not yet. It was more of a pun on signing in Sydney, though I’ll try do it when i’m over there if it works out. I’m not horrible with heights, but I’m not the best either, so I'm kind of a little sceptical on that.
I did hear there’s like three levels though so I’ll probably go at the amateur level."
So there you have it, basketball fans. If you are touring Sydney in the coming months, you might just see the big fella scaling the iconic bridge. He won't be hard to miss, that's for sure.
A burning desire to win, good health (touch wood), and a deep passion to continue to oversee the development of the bourgeoning Australian game. The only disappointing thing that surfaced from our chat, is the realisation that the NBL season doesn't start for another five months. We can hardly wait.