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Bernstein: Gamble on Andrew Bogut could prove worthwhile for Warriors

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Former Warrior Andrew Bogut is reportedly returning to the team. (Richard W. Rodriguez/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS)

The Golden State Warriors made a philosophical decision this week.

It might not shift their hopes of a third straight championship by more than a few percentage points, but it’s still important for a team that has been to three seven-game series since 2017. Thin margins matter in April, May and June.

Their choice was this: They could either add rim-protection to counter potential bigs like Rudy Gobert and Joel Embiid in the playoffs, or they could solidify their cohort of backup wings. They could not do both. Golden State’s preference has been seemingly made clear, as the Warriors have reportedly closed in on the signing of center Andrew Bogut to fill their 15th roster spot.

“We’ve been talking to Bogut’s representatives,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters on Monday. “Nothing is official and things have to happen. We can’t really comment until it’s official.”

There are a few things to take from this. It means Bogut, the former Warrior first acquired in a trade for Monta Ellis, has impressed scouts with his work in Australia over the past year. It means scouts were in Australia tracking Bogut in the first place. It means the Warriors covet Bogut’s ability to stop slashers cold at the hoop and battle for rebounds with fellow centers and power forwards. It means the Warriors feel that’s a skill worth addressing, even though he was run off the floor at times near the end of his last stint with the team and slow-footed big men often struggle to keep up in the postseason.

It means Bogut missed the NBA enough to leave home. It means his former teammates wanted to have him back.

But it will also mean change for a squad that has fielded a consistent bench unit since December. After all, signing Bogut would not only keep the Warriors from bringing in an outside wing player, but also serve as the end of the road for one of its existing assets such as two-way guard Damion Lee, Alfonzo McKinnie or Jonas Jerebko.

So what’s the deal?

The buyout market for 3-point shooting has thinned to almost nothing, and an outside addition in that department has not been realistic for several weeks. While Lee had a career game against the 76ers last weekend and Jerebko and McKinnie have had their moments, none of those players are currently without significant fault. Lee was criticized by scouts in college for his lack of explosiveness and one-on-one ability. Jerebko shot poorly in February and has had his playing time slashed. McKinnie has also struggled to knock down perimeter jumpers of late.

Plus, Bogut adds a different dimension than a Robin Lopez or Enes Kanter, other centers in whom the Warriors had reportedly shown interest. His defensive ability, at its peak, can in many matchups transcend the stereotypes associated with a player of his build. His usefulness as a screener with experience opening up room for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson can not go unmentioned, either.

That doesn’t mean this was the expected fit.

“I thought once he went to Australia, that would be the last time we saw him in NBA circles,” Curry said before Tuesday’s game against the Celtics. “So when the name came up, I thought it was kind of one-sided because we’re familiar with him, we like him, let’s call him to see if he’s interested. I didn’t get the mutual vibe — and now it’s about to happen, so it’s pretty cool.”

What can Bogut bring in the final weeks of the season from Australia, where he just won the National Basketball League MVP with the Sydney Kings? It’s a fair question. He was a shell of himself in his previous two stints with the Lakers and Mavericks. But know this: Bogut likely would not uproot himself from his home country for a bleak chance at making the postseason roster, or to look like a joke on a national stage. There is almost certainly a mutual understanding that he looks capable of surprising people, health willing, and that he will at least have a chance to prove it.

For Warriors fans who have lived in the moment throughout two straight NBA championship sprints, a dose of nostalgia should be exciting. Just a single five-minute shift in the playoffs would make the gamble worthwhile.

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