How Andris Biedrins went from Warriors' starting center to out of NBA

How Andris Biedrins went from Warriors' starting center to out of NBA

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.

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?

Four explanations:
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.

Matt Barnes was on verge of NFL pursuit before Warriors offered chance

Matt Barnes was on verge of NFL pursuit before Warriors offered chance

Matt Barnes wasn't guaranteed or promised anything in his NBA career.

In fact, the former Warriors forward nearly left hoops in 2006 to pursue football.

"I was on the verge of trying to jump into the NFL," Barnes recently explained to Warriors broadcaster Bob Fitzgerald. "I was still working out -- basketball and football -- during the summertime because basketball hadn't really seemed to hit.

"I had played four years up to that point and bounced around -- been on a handful of teams -- and just really wasn't getting a fair shot."

Barnes was selected in the second round (No. 46 overall) of the 2002 NBA Draft, but spent his entire rookie season in the G League with the Fayetteville Patriots.

He didn't make his NBA debut until Jan. 19, 2004 when the Clippers gave him a shot with a 10-day contract.

Barnes signed with the Sacramento Kings in October 2004, and appeared in 43 games before he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in February.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

That brings us to the summer of 2006.

"I was in Sacramento (his hometown) at the time. Baron Davis called me (and said), 'Hey, we're gonna have an open run at the facility (in Oakland). If you're not doing nothing, come down.' I wasn't doing nothing. Hopped in my car, drove down an hour and a half. 

"Played well -- not knowing that Nellie (Warriors coach Don Nelson) was watching the whole time upstairs through the offices. We finished playing, he comes down, tells me I played well (and asks) where I'm going to camp. I was just like, 'You know coach, I don't really have any plans.'

"He told me, he's like, 'I can't promise you anything. I think we have 16 guarantees and 19 people coming to training camp, but if you play like you did today I'll give you a chance.' And that was the first time a coach really had a conversation with me. That's all I needed.

"(I) made the team and continued to use the games as practices and eventually worked my way into the lineup. The rest is history. That's kind of when I put my name on the map."

Over 76 games (23 starts) during the "We Believe" 2006-07 season, Barnes averaged 9.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.0 steals, while shooting nearly 37 percent from deep. In 11 playoff games, he averaged 11.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.5 steals and shot over 42 percent from 3-point range.

[RELATED: Barnes reveals 'We Believe' Warriors documentary in works]

After one more season with the Dubs in 2007-08, Barnes played for the Phoenix Suns, Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Kings.

He returned to the Warriors in early March 2017 after Kevin Durant sustained a knee injury, and became an NBA champion.

The 40-year-old currently co-hosts a fantastic podcast with Stephen Jackson called "All the Smoke," and he is terrific as an analyst on TV.

It's crazy to think how different his life could have been had he not picked up BD's phone call 14 years ago ...

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[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

Damian Lillard torches Dan Orlovsky for 'spoiled', 'entitled' remarks

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Damian Lillard torches Dan Orlovsky for 'spoiled', 'entitled' remarks

We live in an era of hot takes. Being correct isn't as important as being noticed. Ratings triumph over truth.

It leads to a situation in which television pundits frequently spout off misguided and easily disproven snap judgments without understanding the true context of the situation. Why give an accurate assessment when a bombastic quote can drive exponentially more traffic?

Most times, they aren't held accountable. On Thursday, though, Damian Lillard wasn't going to let that fly.

Lillard recently announced that he would sit out games if and when the NBA resumed the season if the Trail Blazers didn't have a chance to qualify for the playoffs and compete for a championship. While that is entirely reasonable, former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky joined ESPN's "Get Up" on Wednesday and put his foot in his mouth in criticizing Lillard's decision.

"How can you sit there and go, ‘Nope, I’m not going to play, but understand that there are people out there that don’t have that choice," Orlovsky said. "They have to go to work. They have to go earn their money. I struggle with sitting here and going ‘you don’t come off, in some way, a spoiled and entitled brat by saying I’m not going to play."

Spoiled and entitled? Seriously? Lillard is anything but, and he didn't let that idiotic comment slide.

Let's see. Lillard grew up in a rough part of Oakland. He didn't have a single D-1 scholarship offer coming out of high school. He attended a mid-major at Weber State University and built himself up to become the No. 6 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. In the time since, he has been named Rookie of the Year, made four All-NBA teams, selected to five All-Star games and become the face of his franchise. Not to mention, he continually gives back to his Oakland community, including hosting an annual picnic and donating to his high school.

What exactly is spoiled about that? And Orlovsky has the nerve to call Lillard entitled?!

Orlovsky, as Lillard reminded him, was a career backup. 

Across 12 career starts, he posted a 2-10-0 record. He is most known for unknowingly stepping out of the back of the end zone for a safety. And this is the guy who we're supposed to view as an authority on the circumstances of a superstar?

Come. On.

Lillard doesn't back down, on the court or off of it. He didn't relent in calling Orlovsky out, and to no one's surprise, the comments eventually were walked back ... sort of.

I suppose you can credit Orlovsky for acknowledging his mistake and apologizing, but I won't. If not for Lillard defending himself, the comments likely would have gone unchecked and further emboldened the hot-take culture.

[RELATED: Warriors could practice again at Chase in next two weeks]

Maybe Orlovsky will think twice -- or at least do a little research -- before opening his mouth next time.

[RUNNIN' PLAYS PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]