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Full speed ahead: Bogut talks Melbourne, Aron Baynes and Boomers
In the weeks leading up to the NBA's February trade deadline, Andrew Bogut was widely rumoured to be signing on with a contender for the playoffs, after being waived by the Los Angeles Lakers.
"I had offers. I had an offer straight away, a ten-day offer immediately after I was waived, but I didn’t take that," Bogut revealed. "That team was pretty consistent in trying to get me to come over."
He was reluctant to give any further details on the teams involved, but nonetheless, a deal never eventuated, culminating in the end of a decorated NBA career for the former number one overall pick. In what became a major coup for the National Basketball League (NBL), Bogut agreed to sign with the Sydney Kings, adding legitimate star power and class to an already stacked lineup.
One might have been inclined to believe that Melbourne United would be front runners for Bogut, who grew up in Endeavour Hills, VIC, but Sydney won out. The Kings offered an enticing package that included a minor stake in ownership, with room to take a greater role in the future.
Always a straight shooter, Bogut has been outspoken about the current condition of his home state Victoria, from crime to politics, going as far as using the term 'nanny state' - a term first coined by former Formula One star Mark Webber in relation to road laws in the state. Bogut chuckled, when asked about the amount of influence his desire to avoid the 'nanny state' had to do with his decision to sign in Sydney, before he dove right into his thoughts, in his typically open fashion.
"I’m a Melbourne boy. Definitely a proud Melbourne boy, but obviously our great state is copping a little bit and rightfully so. I don’t think New South Wales is too far behind either. I’m big on personal responsibility and when you want your government to babysit everything you do, it’s not a good sign. Most regimes in history that have heavy government involvement don’t end very well, so let’s hope that doesn’t happen down here." Bogut said.
It's this unwavering approach to speaking his mind that has made Bogut a polarising figure in the public eye, with many taking umbrage to such candid and honest opinions in a current generation that largely spews out cliché after cliché. A prominent figure on social media, you can often find Bogut interacting with fans or detractors alike, and he's never shy in giving the public his thoughts.
While chatting with Bogut, it's hard not to respect his willingness to talk about everything and anything. He is unquestionably a guy you could spend hours, if not days with, delving into a never ending stream of topics. But back to basketball it was. After all, it was what we were there to chat about.
With a long-term national team goal in mind, Bogut is excited to get to work in Australia, a lighter on-court schedule set to keep his body and mind fresh.
"With my injury history I thought playing less games for my body will hopefully give me some more years down the track and obviously help keep me healthy for the World Cup and the Olympics, so [the NBL schedule] definitely was a factor," Bogut explained.
A driver for Bogut's return to Australia was health. The big man wanted to put himself in the best possible position to win a medal with the Boomers, with both the 2019 World Cup and 2020 Olympics firmly in his sights.
Undoubtedly the elder statesman of the Boomers squad, Bogut's leadership is set to be a vital cog in the Australian basketball machine looking ahead. He takes pride in his contributions to the young talent coming through, and responsibility to ensure standards continue to improve.
"Whether it’s Luc Longley back in the day, or your Jason Smith and Chris Anstey, everyone has played a part in developing the next generation. You want to make sure that they come up even better and more confident than the current [group], and I think the guys around my age have done a good job helping those guys. There will be a very good mix of experience and youth on the next few national teams; it’s an exciting time for the national team for sure."
Joining Bogut on the front court will be fellow veteran Boomer and Boston Celtics big man Aron Baynes. Prior to his recent extension with Boston, Baynes sensationally added a new string to his bow during the NBA playoffs, out of nowhere becoming a threat from beyond 3-point territory. Baynes knocked down 11 of his 23 attempts in the postseason, after only connecting on 4 of his 29 career attempts previously.
In modern basketball, the ability of the big man to stretch the floor for the offense is paramount, and Bogut is excited to see what Baynes will bring to the Boomers squad moving forward.
"He’s shooting those threes now and the way the league is going it’s been a perfect storm for Baynes. He’s a big banger, he can rebound, set screens and play a roll and also now stretch the floor which allows [Boston] to keep him out there in those games."
With Baynes' new-found outside shooting, Bogut believes it could allow a defensively dominant combination on the floor at the same time.
"It’s huge for the national team, you can put Baynes in defensively [at the four]. We’ll definitely play him stretches at the five, but have more confidence at either spot with Baynes out there shooting threes. It creates a new aspect of our offense and then you throw a Thon Maker out there and a couple other guys and it’s looking like a pretty good roster."
Pretty good roster might be an understatement, as the Boomers possess arguably the second deepest squad in the world behind the United States.
"We’re a top five team on paper and everybody is going to come after us, so it’s a scary prospect in a way. We have to know that going into tournaments, all of a sudden we’re the ones that are going to be hunted."
An early look at Bogut the King
Bogut is ready to be a key member of the Boomers' potential success. In the meantime, he will headline a Kings roster that will tip off their NBL campaign on October 13 against the Adelaide 36ers. With that date fast approaching, Bogut has made two cameo performances for the Kings this preseason against Japan and St Mary's college.
Bogut has always been an excellent distributor of the ball for a big man, providing his squads with a unique opportunity to run the offense through the center, whether that be from the low or high post. That exquisite passing ability was on show in his 15 minutes of court time against against Japan last Friday, as he racked up six assists to give a glimpse into how difficult this Kings attack will be to contain with Bogut lurking in the paint.
Keeping in mind that it was Bogut's first competitive game since New Years Day, head coach Andrew Gaze will no doubt continue to ease his star back into the fold. Helping his initiation to the Kings was a matchup against the Gaels on Wednesday night, as he used his massive frame to bully his college opponents to absolutely stuff the box score in short time. Finishing with 12 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and four blocks in 22 minutes on the floor, it felt like these games were the kind of tuneup Bogut needed, before the competition begins to ramp up over the next few weeks.
Bogut is fully aware that the Kings will go in to the NBL season favourites, and as always, is ready to attack their lofty status head on.
"The expectation is the Kings have had a talented roster over the last two or three years and have not delivered, so even without myself I think it’s a very competitive roster, so now obviously there is a bit more 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. I think that should be the goal for every team. There’s eight teams in the league right now and that should be every team's goal [heading into the season]."
In what is a golden era for Australian hoops, this domestic season will be a special one to witness, as arguably the greatest ever Australian to play the game hits the floor on our doorstep. Be sure to head to a Kings game when they are in your town, or at the very least tune in on television, as the buzz surrounding this year's competition has already reached fever pitch.
Equally, when it's not game night, log onto Twitter between the hours of five and eight and you might just find yourself chatting with the big fella. Just be prepared to get a straight answer back, perhaps even one you may not like too much. Because whether it's on the court on the road to the Olympics or off the court, there's no holding back for Bogues.