Bogans ready for second chance with Nets

10/29/2012 10:00 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Keith Bogans (far right) saw his 2011-12 season end moments after this photo was snapped. (AP)
When the Brooklyn Nets begin their season, Keith Bogans will be one of just six Nets players on the court who also suited up for the team’s final season in New Jersey last winter.

The other five – Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Brook Lopez, and MarShon Brooks – are expected to be key contributors, but the 32-year-old Bogans has an undefined role as of yet, one made cloudier by the fact that he sat out last Wednesday’s preseason finale against the Knicks (and several practices over the last week) while battling both a bruised tailbone and a nagging knee injury.

That absence might normally be cause for concern for a veteran journeyman heading into final cutdowns, but for Bogans, it’s merely another small bump in the road; even if it takes him a few extra days to take the court, any small setbacks will surely pale in comparison to the roller-coaster 2011-12 that he feared at one point may be his NBA swan song.

One year ago, Bogans was ready to begin his second year in Chicago. The Bulls were his sixth NBA team since entering the league in 2003-04, but the Kentucky product had started all 82 games for Tom Thibodeau in 2010-11 and felt he had finally found a home as a defensive and three-point shooting specialist on a team filled with superstars like Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer.

But all that changed on December 9 of last year, when he was pulled off the court just moments before the first practice of the 2011-12 season; the Bulls held a $1.73 million option on Bogans’ contract, and after much deliberation, they decided to waive him instead of exercising that right. He was officially let go December 16, and the then-31-year-old ended up sitting out the next six weeks until a call came in late-January: the injury-depleted Nets needed a boost for their backcourt, and wanted Bogans to be that boost.

Despite having almost no practice time with his new team, Bogans debuted on February 1 and played 17 minutes, helping a Nets team with just eight players in uniform top Detroit – and with so much turmoil surrounding the team, Bogans knew from day one that he had an opportunity to make an impact.

But just one week later, in his fifth game with the Nets, Bogans went up to contest a slam dunk attempt by the Pistons’ Greg Monroe and landed awkwardly, suffering a bone fracture and torn deltoid muscle in his left ankle. He had played just 94 minutes to that point, but his season was over, and the guard feared that it was very possible his career may have been, too.

“That kind of scared me a little bit,” Bogans said during the Nets’ first media day back in September. “I didn’t know if it was career-ending. I knew it was season-ending, but didn’t know it was career-ending until I went to the doctor. Once I found out that it wasn’t, I vowed to myself that I was going to get in the best shape of my life and just work hard every day.”

Bogans had surgery on the ankle on February 13, and after doctors assured him that his career could continue, Bogans’ focus moved to another “W,” as in “where;” the Nets, needing to free up space to add to that still-depleted roster, waived him on February 14, but one comment from his coach kept Bogans motivated for his eventual return.

“If you look back at even when I first got hurt, Avery [Johnson] made the comment that I’ll be healthy and back in training camp by next season,” Bogans said last month. “I looked at that as a motivating factor for me, because I hadn’t signed a contract yet. So he was kind of telling me that if I get healthy, I can come back. That was enough for me to go home and work my [butt] off and get ready to get back.”

He did, and Johnson’s prediction came true; the Nets re-signed Bogans to a one-year deal on July 19, and the coach, who has been one of Bogans’ biggest cheerleaders all along, is hopeful that he’ll be available when they officially christen the Barclays Center on Thursday night.

“Bogans has fought so hard to get back from the ankle situation last year, and he’s been probably our hardest worker outside of Deron (Williams) in the off-season,” Johnson said prior to the Nets’ preseason finale last week. “Any setbacks with him are kind of disappointing, because he takes them really hard, so we just make sure that we keep his spirits up.”

Whether Bogans’ return comes Thursday or not, being back from that freak injury is a victory alone – but it will be a doubly sweet one, because as he said last month, that admiration is mutual.

“I wanted to come back here even before they started the rebuilding process,” Bogans said. “From the time my ankle broke through the rehab and all the way back, I haven’t been treated the way I’ve been treated here in my whole career.”

And if the season goes as well as many expect it to, then come June, Bogans could be celebrating another career first – his first trip to the NBA Finals.

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