1 of 2
Associated Press
Former Ute and No. 1 draft pick Andrew Bogut, left, tries to pivot around Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Kaman.

MILWAUKEE — Andrew Bogut is ready to put a trying season behind him.

And "trying" doesn't come close to explaining the mental and physical anguish he endured while playing in 65 games with one good hand.

Now as Bogut and the Bucks get ready for a 66-game NBA season, starting Monday night in Charlotte, they are hoping to be smart and be healthy.

The Bucks' 7-foot center used the down time during the lockout to his advantage, working out regularly in his gym in Melbourne, Australia, while gaining confidence again in his right elbow and right hand.

Bogut underwent surgery on the elbow in April, when surgeon James Andrews made five incisions and removed a large bone chip. The injury stemmed from Bogut's famous crash to the Bradley Center floor in April 2010, when he went up for that disastrous dunk against the Phoenix Suns.

"People say Bogut is injury prone," said the 27-year-old, now in his seventh season with the Bucks. "I would give a million, 2 million dollars out of my contract for this injury never to have happened.

"I'd give half my (yearly) contract, $5 million. I knew when the lockout happened I was going to lose some money, but I'd pay that money right now to be 100 percent.

"I'd rather be feeling the way I'm feeling now. That was a blessing in disguise for me (the lockout). I got to stay an extra two months in a gym. I still would have been OK coming back in October but not as healed. To get an extra six to eight weeks, it was huge for me."

It's difficult to recall how the Bucks actually function with a healthy Bogut in the lineup. But it's worth remembering the team was on a roll at the end of the 2009-'10 season and putting a beat-down on the Suns when Bogut was injured.

So far in the shortened training camp Bogut has performed better in practice than in the two exhibition games against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

But he also has showed enough positive signs to encourage coach Scott Skiles, who said he would go home after games last season and feel sorry for his big man.

"You can tell he feels better," Skiles said. "He's in great shape. He was unhealthy for the whole year. He has a totally different look on his face.

"When he catches it and goes quick to the basket, he's got a much quicker first step than people think. Last year due to his injury, he was catching and looking and waiting. He just didn't feel comfortable; he just wasn't himself."

Bogut didn't want to let on about how much pain and frustration he felt, but finally he couldn't take it any longer at one point last season.

"There was a day where I finally snapped and I was like, 'My elbow is absolutely terrible,' " Bogut said. "Mentally I've never dealt with anything like that in my life before. The stress fracture in my back was nothing compared to this.

"All of a sudden, I had a ball in my right hand and I couldn't dribble, I couldn't shoot, I couldn't lift weights. I knew going into the season to an extent I was going to have to try to just guard, get rebounds, block shots and be a defensive presence, finish easy shots. Everything else was going to come hard.

"There were some games I had 20 (points) and some games I had zero. I tried to affect the game a different way. It was by far the toughest season not only as a pro but of my career. Mentally and physically it absolutely destroyed me."

And the Bucks were unable to survive such devastation for their on-court leader, not to mention injuries to other key players.

Bogut has such a good knowledge of Skiles' defensive system and has grown during his six years in Milwaukee, after being selected No. 1 in the 2005 draft. But it was hard for him to be a strong leader when he felt so terrible physically.

Negotiating the compressed league schedule will be a challenge for Bogut, who knows he must take care of his body and not take unnecessary risks.

"Every team is going to have to do it," he said. "With how physical our league has become and how far we travel now, teams are going to have to be smart with their recovery. Players are going to have to adapt themselves.

"You have three games in a row and expect your main guys to play 40 minutes and then practice a day or two later. . . there are going to be a lot of recovery issues and techniques players and teams will have to use."

Bogut said he already has witnessed a different vibe around the Bucks locker room and in practices. It's a change that he believes was absolutely necessary.

"There is much more positiveness around the 12 or 15 guys we have," Bogut said. "Negativity swirled in our locker room last year, all the way from the players to the coaches to the franchise. There was so much pressure on everybody and that's not a good working environment to be in."

Bogut led the league in blocked shots last season and maintained his solid defensive presence. But he could not shoot with his right hand and could barely get the ball to the basket on some free throw attempts.

Developing confidence in his right-handed shot again will be a process, and he said during the summer he didn't think his right hand would ever be the same as it was before the injury.

But Skiles has seen enough to make him think Bogut can again be an offensive threat.

"He doesn't have the whole burden of our offense but he is a quality offensive player," Skiles said. "He can move around the floor and he's effective in different positions.

"He can play off the elbows and pass to people. He can put the ball on the deck on the perimeter and make backdoor passes. He also has a back-to-the-basket game; he can post and go in and score. It's nice to see him back."