“Training over. Good news on ankle: swelling is getting close to being all gone. Bad News: The less swelling the more achy.” — @AndrewMBogut
When I saw this tweet of Andrew Bogut’s last night, I knew that it was finally time to write this post. I’ve been contemplating writing it for some months. Ever since, in fact, Bogut gave that little interview near the end of last season to that Warriors shill, the interview that was supposed to be about how he’d just gotten out of his walking boot, and all was progressing well. But the interview didn’t go down that way. Before it ended, the naturally loquacious Bogut let slip that the temperature in his ankle was 10 degrees higher than normal. When I heard that, my eyebrows shot up. 10 degrees? Like, 108? I really wanted to hear more about this, but the shill quickly got the discussion back on course. This was, after all, not an actual interview. It was advertising, for the people that paid the shill’s wages, and meant to generate excitement and sell season tickets, not explore the truth.
Didn’t matter. Within a week, we all found out the truth about that 108 degree ankle: Bogut was scheduled for another surgery.
And I immediately started surfing the internets, engaged in medical research. You see, Bogut’s return to the operating table triggered a painful memory for me. Back in 2010, I happened to be crushing my fantasy baseball league. And the MVP of my fantasy team, and a leading candidate for MVP of the AL, was a player by the name of Kendrys Morales. And I just so happened to be actually watching the game in which Morales hit a walk-off grand slam (Yes!), triumphantly circled the bases, and then leaped in the air to stomp on home plate, surrounded by a raucus mob of teammates. Into which mob he disappeared, falling down, never to get up again. Kendrys Morales had shattered his ankle landing on home plate (No!), and was carried off on a stretcher.
I couldn’t believe it. The year before I had an MVP candidate who shattered his hand punching his bat in frustration over a strikeout (Carlos Quentin). Who but me could possibly hit this sort of exacta?
But this isn’t about me…. Poor Kendrys. I apparently cursed him the next season as well, because I kept him on my fantasy team. I’d originally drafted him in 2009 for $1 (genius!), and carried him over for $5 in 201o and for $13 the next season (idiot!), because Kendrys Morales was an MVP candidate, right? A bargain! And who doesn’t recover from a broken ankle?
Who? Kendrys Morales, that’s who. He tried to play in spring training, but before the season started he was back under the knife. I learned some new terms reading dejectedly about his progress. “Debridement,” for one: That’s what the docs call an operation to remove loose bone and cartilage particles from a joint.
“Osteoarthritis,” for another. Arthritis? Really? I thought that’s what old people get. Yes, that’s true. But it’s also what Kendrys Morales got, from breaking his ankle. That’s what the LA Times said. I was also told by the LA Times that the debridement procedure went well. But somewhat mysteriously, Kendrys Morales nevertheless missed the entire 2011 season.
Which brings me back to Andrew Bogut. When I read that Bogut was scheduled for a “debridement” of his broken anke I immediately got a familiar sinking feeling. It was impossible for me not to make a connection to the case of Kendrys Morales. That’s what impelled me to immediately start doing some medical research.
First thing I did, I googled “osteoarthritis.”
And this is what I learned: Osteoarthritis is a catch-all term for chronic inflammation of a joint. The inflammation can have several causes, but there was one possible cause that caught my eye.
Sometimes injury to a joint degrades the cartilage that covers the end of the bones that meet in the joint. Bits and pieces of this cartilage flake off over time, becoming loose particles and debris within the joint, and creating inflammation and pain. And further flaking. And further pain. And bone spurs and calcification.
Is this what Andrew Bogut has in his ankle? I’m no medical doctor of course. And the Warriors have never mentioned that word. (But then, if you relied on Joe Lacob and his PR staff to tell you the truth about their injured players, you’d never know that Andris Biedrins has been suffering from a chronic, debilitating and painful abdominal condition called osteitis pubis. Since 2009.)
I am, however, someone who is pretty good at conducting google searches and connecting the dots. And I think it’s clear that Bogut has osteoarthritis in his damaged ankle. He had a temperature of 108 in that ankle, and if that’s not inflammation, I don’t know what is. And he had a “debridement,” which all of us virtual MDs now know is a procedure to remove loose particles of bone and cartilage from a joint.
What does this mean for Bogut’s future? Now here, I’m really over my head. I’m not one of those medical specialists that have been reporting in the media that everything is proceeding normally, and is “on course.”
All that I can do is remember what it meant for Kendrys Morales’ future. Even now, in 2012, Morales is still feeling his ankle. I know this, because I drafted Morales AGAIN this season (idiot!). Because he was really cheap, and he was a past MVP candidate, and who suffers from a broken ankle for TWO STRAIGHT SEASONS? Kendrys Morales, that’s who. Even now, he’s giving almost weekly status updates to the media on how his ankle is feeling (very sore to start the season, “better” now). And even now, he’s a mere shadow of his former self at the plate.
It has crossed my mind that Kendry Morales is not a 7 foot tall, 270 lb. basketball player, who is going to be asked to run and jump on hardwood floors throughout training camp, 82 regular season games, a certain number of playoff games, and a myriad of practices in between. No, Kendrys Morales is a 6-1″ 225 lb. designated hitter, who sits on his ass most of the time, and then once every 40 minutes or so, takes an at-bat, and if he hits something, runs on a nice soft groomed dirt surface, for about 5 seconds.
Yes, that has crossed my mind. How in the world is Bogut’s osteoarthritic ankle supposed to survive the intense pounding it’s going to get on the basketball court? How can those degraded bone ends be expected to stop flaking off bits of bone and cartilage into his ankle joint?
Here’s something else that has crossed my mind: This is not the first osteoarthritic joint that Andrew Bogut has contracted. He’s had it before, in that elbow he shattered in 2010. The elbow that caused him great pain during his subpar 2010-11 season, leading to the conditioning and attitude problems that created a rift between himself and Coach Scott Skiles. The elbow on which he had a second operation in the summer of 2011. A debridement, natch, that produced the nice chunk of something boney that Bogut had put into a bottle so that he could wave it in front of the press, and say, “See? I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I was in pain!”
The elbow which, according to all reports, he still cannot fully extend. The elbow which resulted in a 49.5% shooting percentage in 2010-11, and a 44.9% shooting percentage in the first 12 games of the 2011-12 season.
That elbow. That elbow has osteoarthritis as well. I’d stake my newly minted virtual medical degree on it.
Could this mean that Bogut is especially prone to osteoarthritis? Could it mean there’s something wrong with his bones? Joe Lacob’s PR machine was quick to point out that Bogut’s two horrific broken bones were the result of “freak” occurrences. What does that mean exactly? Was it the falls themselves that were freak occurrences, or the fact that his bones broke? Would another player’s bones have shattered in similar fashion? Would another player have developed osteoarthritis in both his damaged joints?
And what about that stress fracture in his back, that cost him most of the 2008-09 season? Remember that? (If not, it’s not your fault, because that injury has never been mentioned by anyone in Lacob’s employ. And never will be.) Was that the result of a freak accident as well? I think we know the answer to that.
So what’s really up with Bogut’s bones? I obviously have no real idea. I’m just a guy obsessed with connecting dots.
But before I start with the connecting, here are a few more dots for you to consider: The words that are actually coming out of Bogut’s own mouth. Andrew Bogut has a history of telling people when things aren’t right with him physically. He has a history of lessening expectations, of preparing the ground so that he won’t shoulder the fans’ blame if he can’t perform at a high level.
He told us what was going on with his elbow pain back in 2010-11. He reiterated that point when he held up that boney bit in a bottle. He looked the Warriors shill in the eye and told him his ankle had a temperature of 108 degrees. And he’s telling us something again now, isn’t he?
Training over. Good news on ankle: swelling is getting close to being all gone. Bad News: The less swelling the more achy. — @AndrewMBogut
I’m sitting here connecting the dots, and I have to say the pictures that are appearing in my coloring book aren’t pretty.
I’m trying to think of a reason why a 7-foot 270 lb. NBA center won’t have the same kinds of difficulties returning to action on an osteoarthritic ankle that a 225 lb. MLB DH has had. Or worse.
I’m trying to think of a single NBA center who has returned to form after the number of debilitating season-ending injuries that Bogut has had. I’m looking for one name.
I’m trying to put a number to my thoughts. A percentage. The odds. That, after all, is what I do for a living. I handicap the odds of future events, on the poker table, in the market, and in sports.
What are the odds that Andrew Bogut is ready for training camp? I think realistically it’s less than 50%. I would take 2-1 odds against.
What are the odds that he plays 70 games next season? Well historically, he has failed to reach that number 3 times in his first 8 seasons. So 63%. 5-3 in favor. Are the odds of him playing 70 games in say his next five seasons greater or less than the past 8? I’d have to say less. He’s older, and he’s already suffered three major injuries. So does even money sound about right? 50% likely that Bogut is around for 70 games in each of the next five seasons?
Not that I have any intention of betting on these gruesome propositions. I am of course rooting strongly for Andrew Bogut. First, because I would never root against anyone’s health. Second, because Bogut seems like a pretty great guy. And third, because I would actually love for the Warriors to have a winning team. Believe it or not, I’m sick to death of writing about incompetent personnel decisions, incompetent coaching, throwing basketball games, and tanking seasons. When I started this gig, it was with the intent of sharing my joy at watching great basketball. It seems like an eon ago now that I penned that optimistic Mission Statement.
I’m putting some numbers to the Bogut situation because I want to think clearly about the gamble that Joe Lacob took when he traded for Andrew Bogut. Good gamble or bad?
If it turns out that Bogut can’t play, or never again plays to a high level, was that result at all forseeable? I’ll let you answer that for yourselves.
What will the Warriors options be if Bogut can’t play? What will it mean to their salary flexibility to have both Bogut’s and Biedrins’ contracts hanging around their necks? How will they approach this season? Will they try to win regardless, or revert to tanking for lottery picks?
Do the odds of a healthy Bogut returning for an indeterminate period justify holding the Warriors team hostage to this situation? I’m thinking of the way that the NBA’s best teams are being built these days. The Miami Heat, the OKC Thunder, the Nuggets. It is Nellieball that has been seizing the league in recent years. Nellieball that is fast becoming the reigning philosophy.
The Heat, Thunder and Nuggets are all in the process of demonstrating that it is possible to build an NBA contender without putting all of your eggs in the dominating defensive 7-footer basket. It may in fact be a sounder and easier way to build a team, given the frequent health problems the giants of the league are susceptible to. Just how healthy can we expect Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard to be in the future, let alone Andrew Bogut?
So I’ll put it to you once again: Ellis and Udoh for Bogut and Jefferson. Based on what was knowable at the time, good trade?
Speak now or forever hold your peace.