Editor's Note: In the spirit of March, NBC Sports Bay Area will be posting brackets on social media relating to your favorite Bay Area teams. Our first bracket is “Who is your favorite random Warrior?” Former Warriors center Andris Biedrins leads things off.
Putting stars would be too easy. Who’s winning this random Warriors bracket? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/tFmBudGCAD— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) March 19, 2020
He came to the Warriors in 2004 blessed with 6-feet-11 inches of height, hands like Velcro mitts and the incentive common among those who grow up closer to war and poverty rather than to peace and privilege.
At 18, he also had the soaring promise of youth.
“I started from zero,” Andris Biedrins told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2006, four months before he turned 21.
By then, Biedrins was a double-double machine moving into the second tier of NBA centers. By 23, his career was getting slippery. By 25, he was falling. At 27, he was out of the league.
How did Biedrins – or “Goose” as coach Don Nelson called him – go from starting center on a playoff team to a six-year, $54-million contract, to out of the NBA to, these days, a melancholy punch line in Dub Nation dialogue?
1) He was hampered by a spate of injuries, none of them serious
2) He didn’t commit to rehab
3) Idle time nudged him astray
4) His confidence, often punctured by Nelson, splintered into too many pieces for anyone to repair
Every NBA player signing a substantial contract immediately proceeds to a pivotal intersection and must decide which way to go. Left? Right? Straight ahead? Turn around and go backward?
Biedrins chose a fifth option. He took the stairwell a couple steps away, which led to a life from which he never emerged.
After enduring four consecutive ineffective seasons, the Warriors in March 2012 moved on from Biedrins, acquiring Andrew Bogut from Milwaukee. Sixteen months later, they traded their once-future center Biedrins to Utah.
Which leaves Warriors fans to wonder what might have been.
Biedrins was 24 when he told me in 2010, after two seasons of declining availability and production, that he was ready to regain the proficiency displayed in three seasons earlier, when he led the NBA in field-goal percentage (62.6) and finished 11th in rebounding (9.8 per game).
What opened eyes was how Biedrins, one year removed from a productive season with the “We Believe” Warriors, performed as the team chased a second consecutive playoff appearance. The Warriors fell short, despite winning 48 games, but he averaged 16.0 points and 15.7 rebounds over the final seven games.
That led to the massive contract that could allow him to live comfortably for the rest of his life.
Two years later, Biedrins was hoping to find that guy. The Warriors had a new coach, Keith Smart, who quickly realized he had to address the psychological scars still evident fter two years of Nelson’s private and public critiques. Smart in the summer of 2010 made his third trip to Latvia and spent 10 days reminding Biedrins of his gifts and trying to refill his confidence.
The “Save Andris” mission consisted of two practices per day, every day, and numerous conversations life and family and the future.
Biedrins told me the previous two seasons were “really hard,” but he looked forward to being productive for “Coach Keith,” saying that his relationship with Smart was “probably” the best of anyone in the organization.
Smart’s mission ultimately failed.
[RELATED: Biedrins loved that Steph wore his jersey]
Biedrins’ old confidence, built largely off the spoon-feeding he got from Stephen Jackson and Baron Davis, never fully returned. His off-court self-discipline too often wavered, resulting in too many late nights and rough mornings.
He played six games, a total of 45 minutes, for the Jazz before being waived in 2014 and returning to Latvia to live the good life with his family.
There are many cautionary tales of athletes peaking in their early 20s, leaving their fans to cherish memories. Add Biedrins, now 33, to the list.