OAKLAND — Warriors big man Ronny Turiaf noticed something missing from fellow center Andris Biedrins.
No, Turiaf wasn't referring to his lack of girth, or a polished offensive game. But his trademark spiky do.
"I asked him, 'Andris, what happened to the gel? You're supposed to have gel in your hair,' " Turiaf said, after with a spot-on impression of Biedrins. "He goes, 'Practice? Practice? I don't put it in for practice.' Ever since, I've been giving him a hard time about it."
Biedrins, the incumbent starting center, and Turiaf, whom the Warriors signed away from the Los Angeles Lakers this offseason, will share the minutes at center. But these two aren't battling. The Warriors can use both of their respective attributes, but it would be a stretch to call it a competition between them. Though Biedrins is Latvian and Turiaf is French, perhaps the best way to describe these two is as brothers.
"I'm really happy that Ronny is here," Biedrins said, "because he always plays with so much energy and is so active always when he's on the court. He's a really great help down there."
Turiaf said: "For me, (competition) kind of has some kind of negative connotations to it. I feel like we're definitely trying to improve each other's level. By doing that, it's going to allow us to raise our level of play and be better for the basketball club."
It would seem that Biedrins and Turiaf are headed for a collision, forcing coach Don Nelson to choose one over the other. But Nelson has already identified Biedrins as the clear-cut starter and Turiaf as his backup. Nelson said neither will play power forward, nor will forward Al Harrington play much center. So the two centers will split 48 minutes.
Biedrins signed a six-year, $54 million contract this offseason (with incentives that could push it to $63 million). He will be looked to this season for more than just the hustle, rebounding and finishing he provided last season — to the tune of 10.5 points on 62.6 percent shooting with 9.8 rebounds — but to be a leader and to produce more on offense.
Nelson said Biedrins will have the ball in his hands more than he ever has before.
"Of course I expect more," Biedrins said. "Now the expectations are higher. But I am ready for that to do more things than I did before. "... I will do all those things I did before. I will just try to do it more and better."
Likewise, Turiaf signed with the Warriors for the opportunity to do more. He averaged 6.6 points and 3.9 rebounds in 18.7 minutes for the Lakers last season. But with the Warriors' desperate need for size inside and a big man who can make things happen on offense, Turiaf was more than happy to bolt for Northern California.
The Warriors look to milk his defense, rebounding and hustle, as well as the offensive skills — especially his passing ability — he wasn't allowed to exhibit much in Los Angeles.
"I know I'm a good basketball player and I know I can produce on the court," Turiaf said. "But I know I have weaknesses just like everybody else. "... I'm worrying about whatever I can bring to this team to help each one of these guys get better. That's how I am. That's how I've always been."
The Warriors believe they can please both players. Biedrins, who averaged 27.3 minutes, will play quite a bit more. But Nelson warned that he doesn't want to run Biedrins into the ground. That's where Turiaf comes in.
"A lot of it depends on how good Turiaf is as to how much rest I can give (Biedrins)," Nelson said. "The better he is, the more I can rest Andris. The backup center is one of the most important positions on the team, as far as I'm concerned. That's why we went out and signed him."
Both big men said they are happy with the arrangement.
Sound Pollyanna-ish? Not for Biedrins and Turiaf. There perhaps aren't two more down-to-earth, laid-back, team-first guys. Both are reputed for their willingness to sacrifice and their comedic dispositions.
"I'm just like him," Turiaf said. "He doesn't care about minutes or scoring or whatever. When he's on the court, he just does whatever it takes to help the team — block shots, rebounding, dunks, layups. He gives his body, too. You can never have too many guys like that on the basketball court."
Contact Marcus Thompson II at email@example.com.