Andris Biedrins Puts Warriors' Struggles Behind Him
Golden State coach Don Nelson was ousted for reasons mostly unrelated to Andris Biedrins, the Latvian center who just might have reached for his finest bottle of celebratory vodka when he heard the news. It's not that there was any ill will intended toward Nelson, even if he had made Biedrins' already-humbling free-throw shooting woes infinitely more embarrassing last season by publicly threatening to fine him if he didn't opt for the underhanded style made famous by former Warrior great Rick Barry.
It's just that the seven-year veteran had become the unofficial poster boy for why a change was considered necessary. And now that one has indeed occurred, with longtime Nelson assistant Keith Smart taking over, it's hard not to notice that Biedrins is overjoyed.
"I always had a great relationship with Coach Smart," Biedrins told FanHouse this week, opting to answer a question regarding the past by instead looking to the suddenly-brighter future. "I'm really glad that he's now in the head coach position. He has seen things from the last couple of years that we were missing, and now we're changing a couple things.
"Last season overall was very frustrating for me. I had the injuries and the surgery and all that stuff. I think (the coaching change) came at the right time, so I'm really glad."
His bosses, in turn, are equally elated.
As Golden State moves ahead into its post-Nellie era, the Warriors' man in the middle is truly the center of attention. He is integral to all that they do, healthy again after abdomen injuries limited him to 33 games last season and still so intriguing as a rebounder, shot blocker and sometimes-emphatic finisher because he's only 24 years old.
While he could certainly find himself on the trading block if Golden State surprised the masses and put together a package to land Denver's Carmelo Anthony, Biedrins' in-house value has already been raised with the addition of David Lee. The former New York Knicks forward was essentially given a six-year, $80 million deal from the Warriors in a July sign-and-trade, and his pairing with Biedrins - who has four years and a combined $36 million left on his deal - is seen as a significant piece of this new blue-and-gold puzzle.
His happiness is paramount, though, vital to this team that has undergone a major culture change in its locker room as a result of so many offseason moves. And considering the red flags raised when Biedrins reportedly griped about all things Warriors in a summertime interview in Latvia, his suddenly-sunny disposition is a welcome turnaround of tone for all involved.
"Andris has worked his butt off in the offseason, came in here in great shape and in a great frame of mind," Lee said of his new teammate. "He's doing everything we've asked him to do and then some."
The goal, of course, is for Biedrins to return to his previous form.
Before his most forgettable season yet ended with hernia surgery last March, Biedrins first emerged during Golden State's memorable "We Believe" season in 2006-07. The Warriors made the playoffs for the first time since 1994 as the eighth seed, then shocked top-seeded Dallas in the first round before falling to Utah. Biedrins' pivotal play continued through the 48-win season in 2007-08 and the following campaign in which -- despite the Warriors winning just 29 games -- Biedrins posted career highs in points (11.9 per game), rebounds (11.2) and blocks (1.5).
"I remember playing against Andris two and three years ago when he was the most efficient center in the NBA, a guy that was as difficult to play against as anybody," Lee continued. "But a lot of times injuries play with your head because you don't enjoy the game as much. Every time you go to play you're freaking hurting, you know what I mean? I think that played with him a little bit, but I think there's some new blood around here and there's some fresh faces.
"And from what I've seen and from what he's told, he's excited about the season and we're excited to have him back."
According to Smart, Biedrins' health has been the genesis of his renewed enthusiasm. That's the message he received during 10 days in Latvia in August, when the then-assistant made his third consecutive offseason trip to train with Biedrins.
While the two men had spent this time together before, this was the first time it didn't involve working with Biedrins' national team during the visit. The sessions were far more intimate, more focused than ever before. They worked out twice a day during that span, compiling 18 practices in all. Yet one particular practice, Smart said, stood out above the rest.
"One day he had a workout where one of the closets (that) had the balls, we didn't have the key," Smart said. "(Biedrins) had a two-hour practice without the ball. We had a little, small, tennis-type ball, and we ran drills with that, and he did it for two hours. That doesn't happen. Everyone else I know, even I would've said, 'Hey man, let's call this a day and go home.' But he stayed there. It was his second practice (of the day) and he stayed there and worked.
"We did conditioning. He did other things with the ball. A guy who was helping us over there did a bunch of other floor conditioning exercises. He's in a good place. I think he has a team that he really likes. But again, like the other guys, he's grown up. He has matured more. Now I think he's healthy, and I think he wants to play again and have a good year."
Biedrins confirmed that there was one exercise he didn't do during his training: the underhanded free-throw.
As if it wasn't maddening enough to be off the floor during the first injury-plagued season of his career, Biedrins at times became a sideshow while on it. He hit just four of 25 free throws, clanking his attempts almost every time at the line while clearly being rattled by the embarrassment of it all. The 16-percent shooting clip made his previous career average of 53.2 percent look enviable by comparison, and Nelson entered the summer claiming he would insist that Biedrins work with Barry and replicate his well-known ways.
He did no such thing, instead focusing on core training he hopes keeps him healthy all season long. Biedrins spent most of July in Vancouver, B.C., working with well-known physiotherapist Alex McKechnie, the Lakers' athletic performance coordinator who counts Phoenix point guard Steve Nash as his most vocal proponent. McKechnie is best known for inventing the "Core-X" abdominal system that the two-time defending champions also swear by.
Biedrins was engaged to be married this summer, too, a step he admits has slowed down his propensity for nightlife and helped him hone in on his game. And now, quite clearly, he's wed to the notion that he's officially back.
"I'm good to go," Biedrins said. "I'm just being happy. I had a really great summer. We have a brand new team with the new coaches. Everybody seems to be enjoying each other, and working together, and I think that's the most important part. I'm just happy to have a new chapter."
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