Andris Biedrins' Long July.
It's hard to believe that the sole survivor of Joe Lacob's cleansing of Cohan's Warriors is Andris Biedrins. But there he is, and here we are, both carrying on at the end of a very long July.
There was a time that Biedrins was considered to be one of the best young centers in the league. He was the one guy we didn't have to worry about -- a steady double-double every night, and one of our only legitimate defensive specialists on an offensively-minded team. He was quick for his size, very springy, adept at grabbing offensive rebounds and tapping in put-backs. After averaging 10.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game (and a league leading .629 field goal percentage) in his fourth season, the Warriors locked him up for six years and $62 million dollars. At the time (and under that version of the CBA) the deal was considered to be a steal. Biedrins was going to be an important part of a young, exciting team that had won 48 games in 2008, and was projected to be in the playoff picture in 2009.
But as we all know, things didn't work out as planned, for the Warriors or Biedrins. After a strong (but injury filled) 2009 campaign that saw him average 11.9 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.5 blocks on 60% shooting, Biedrins imploded in a fashion that was perplexing as it was frustrating. No one's really sure what happened, but whatever it was, it permanently destroyed the center we used to affectionately call "Beans". An ankle injury suffered on February 9, 2009 sidelined Beans for twenty games, and he hasn't averaged a double-double since then. In 2010, an embarrassing streak of free-throw ineptitude seemingly destroyed Don Nelson's confidence in him, and in turn, his confidence in himself. With Nellie gone, and Keith Smart in, Biedrins pledged that he'd return to pre-max salary form, and help with the Warriors revival. Not so much. He stopped looking for his shot and became less aggressive around the hoop so as to avoid the charity stripe. His numbers plummeted to 5 points, 7 rebounds, and 1 block per game, and he missed 27 games due to injury.
Last summer, I analyzed the "long July" of Michael Beasley. I was interested in looking at B-Easy because at the time he seemed more "human" than many of his peers in the league. By "human", I meant that B-Easy clearly saw playing basketball as a means to an end, and not a totalizing lifestyle. He was exuberant, demonstrative and mostly aware, but largely unapologetic about his shortcomings on and off the court. Indeed, it seems to be a person that is just overjoyed to be paid handsomely to do something that he loves everyday, and sees himself for what he is: a rich man in his mid-twenties who is trying to do the best he can while journalists and bloggers decry the way he's choosing to grow up. He stands out among his colleagues because he is so candid and "real", and unlike other players, not a sum of his stats and endorsements.
Similarly, I am interested in looking at Andris Biedrins because of his all-too-human qualities. Like Beasley, there is a bit of "Everyman" in Andris Biedrins. To me, he seems like a person who has lost the drive and motivation to "be the very best", whatever that means. Whether it was the dismantling of the We Believe team, his poor relationship with Nellie, the free throw debacle, or just working within an organization as incompetent and unstable as Golden State, we don't really know. But what is clear is that somewhere along the way, Andris Biedrins no longer could muster the will to perform for his superiors, and has seemingly given up the fight to maintain his spot as one of the league's promising young pivots. He, like many of us, is in dire need of a change of scenery, and desperately needs to find a new source of inspiration, and thus, a chance at rebirth.
So with no further ado, I present: Andris Biedrins' "long July".
June 28, 2012: The Warriors select three rookies in the NBA Draft in East Rutherford, New Jersey. One of the rookies taken by the W's revamped front office is Festus Ezeli, a 22 year old center out of Vanderbilt University. Warriors minority owner (and front office consultant) Jerry West explained that the Warriors needed to get bigger, meaner and tougher down low, and Ezeli, as the last pick in the first round, was the perfect candidate to help the Warriors improve in that area. What's worse for Andris is that the pundits, by and large, love the pick, and see him, at worst, as the Warriors third-string center by the end of the season. When you're worried about losing your spot as the guy who only sees time when the backup isn't performing up to snuff, or you have to use up a few fouls quickly to slow momentum, it says something about your prospects as a professional. But who knows if that's what Andris is actually thinking about this matter. We haven't really heard from him in two or three years.
July 6, 2012: Well, this isn't good. Both Deadspin and The Huffington Post post some seriously NSFW pictures from a Latvian website that seem to depict Andris Biedrins (or another 7-foot spikey-haired Latvian boy-band look-a-like) getting busy in the back of a car with an unidentified woman. The pictures are undated, and no one's identity is confirmed, but there's a lot of trouble here. As expected, the pictures make the rounds on all the popular sports sites. This caps off a particularly bad PR week for the Dubs, who were conducting damage control after the revelation that the Reverend and Head Coach Mark Jackson had been blackmailed by one of his favorite strippers, who he wisely sent nude photos to via email. The Warriors choose not to comment on the photos one way or another, so we don't know if we're actually looking at Andris Biedrins' shit-eating backseat grin or not. Either way, it puts Andris Biedrins and the Warriors organization in the news for all the wrong reasons. Boneheads beget boneheads. No "head" pun intended. "Bone" either.
July 10, 2012: It's not getting much better for Beans. Reports come out that the Latvian state prosecutor's office is pursuing criminal charges against Biedrins for tax evasion. Allegedly, Biedrins created a bogus leisure-hire company to avoid paying taxes on a luxury boat that he exported to Latvia from the United States. The prosecutor says the case will probably take three years to complete. This could be serious trouble for Beans if he ever hopes to return to Latvia following his playing career. And given the way Beans is playing, his career is only going to last as long as his current contract. In other words: two years and counting. Good thing former GM Larry Riley had no idea how to properly utilize the amnesty provision.
July 14, 2012: It's time for Vegas Summer League and the Warriors, for once, are the talk of the town. After the first day, the W's are 1-0, and looking quite sharp. While Day 1 belonged to Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson, Day 2 belonged to Festus Ezeli. In a game against the Denver Nuggests, Ezeli looks especially promising. He's highly active in the post, reads defenses well, sets solid screens to create opportunities for the wings, and most importantly, looks for his shot. He finishes with 11 points, 7 rebounds, 1 block, and one massive put back dunk against Kenneth Faried. Andris Biedrins cannot be reached for comment.
July 16, 2012: It becomes clear that the Warriors newly-minted backup center, Jeremy Tyler, is going to turn heads this season. Not just because of his improving play, but also because he's got a great story to tell. Tyler, of course, was one of the first (and only) players to leave high school early to play professional basketball. He spent what would've been his junior year playing in Israel, and his senior year playing in China. His basketball journey then took him to the NBA draft, where he got selected by the Warriors in the late second round. After some nice flashes during his rookie season, he looks ready to take Andris Biedrins' job as the Warriors backup center. His summer league numbers are pretty good too -- averaging about 12 points and 7 rebounds in only 22 minutes per game. This isn't good for our Latvian hero.
July 16, 2012: To add injury to insult, Festus Ezeli officially signs his deal with the Warriors. Welcome to the end of the bench, Beans.
There comes a time when it's pointless to try and rebuild a bridge that was broken long ago. Based on the way Biedrins has played -- and conversely, the way the organization has marginalized Biedrins over that period of time -- that the two parts have moved on without the other. The Warriors have replaced Biedrins thrice over, having acquired Jeremy Tyler, Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli over the last thirteen months. Biedrins, meanwhile, hasn't been seen or heard from all offseason long. Once a prominent part of the Warriors PR campaign, Biedrins now spends his offseasons out of sight, and out of mind.
There's a chance that the Warriors might be fairly decent this season. They've completely retooled their front office and their lineup, and for the first time, the ghost of Chris Cohan no longer haunts. There may be a lot of reason to celebrate this season.
But Andris Biedrins will not be a part of that celebration. His time with the Warriors has come and gone; perhaps in the NBA as well. It's okay. We all lose motivation over time, and our relationships with this things that once meant a lot to us occasionally fade. That's the way things go sometimes. But still, it's pretty sad. It was a lovely affair, but a horrible marriage.