OAKLAND -- With starter Andrew Bogut out for most of the preseason, the battle for the No. 2 center has added importance.
If the season started now, it seems rookie Festus Ezeli would get the nod. Coach Mark Jackson has been high on the Vanderbilt product since the Warriors drafted him No. 30 overall. But beleaguered center Andris Biedrins, coming off his second straight abysmal season, said he is looking forward to redemption.
"I've been in the league a while, and I know what I need to do to try and get back," Biedrins said. "It's been tough, but I think now is the time to change things around."
A new year brings another chance for Biedrins, entering his ninth season, to salvage a career that has spiraled to the point many question his desire.
But unlike in years' past, the Warriors aren't desperate for the Latvian's resurgence. The acquisition of Bogut last season gives the Warriors a proven starting center if he's healthy.
Ezeli significantly bolsters the size and defensive acumen of the Warriors frontline. At 6-foot-11, 255 pounds, he is physically imposing and he has a knack for blocking shots.
"I'm here to bust my tail, work hard and do what's best for the team," Ezeli said. "If (Jackson) sees that and he decides to play me, then I'm happy about that. I just want to be physical, play defense, make my open shots. I want to win. The dirty jobs, all that little stuff I have to do for my team to win, that's what I will do."
Second-year big man Jeremy Tyler is still a talented prospect, and veteran Carl Landry can play the role of undersized center if needed. The Warriors have options. But they could certainly use the old Biedrins, based on what Jackson said he wants from his backup center.
"Defensive presence. Be a physical force. Be the anchor on the defensive end. Set great screens. Finish at the rim," Jackson said. "Nothing I don't believe the guy who wins that job can't do. I don't want them to be Andrew Bogut. But I want them to be the anchor and bring toughness to the table."
Most fans hold little faith Biedrins can return to being an effective NBA center. During the 2008-09 season, Biedrins averaged 11.9 points, 11.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 30 minutes.
At this point, the Warriors would be happy with his 2009-10 numbers: 5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 59.1 percent shooting in 23 minutes.
The 7-foot, 242-pound center said he has a plan for resurrecting his production.
"Just be active," Biedrins said. "Run a lot. Be physical. Get rebounds, loose balls. Get back to those basics. That's my main goals. It sounds easy, but it's not. It takes a lot of energy but that's what I'm preparing for. I feel great, and that's what I'm going to do."
Ezeli said Biedrins has been playing hard so far in camp and has more skills than he expected. Most of the current players only know the recent Biedrins. The one with the wince-worthy free throw. The modern poster boy for overpaid players. The dartboard for Warriors fans' fury.
"I've heard and seen film of what he was on the We Believe team and all that kind of stuff," point guard Stephen Curry said. "He's put a lot of time into the organization. He's been through a lot. So you want the best for him."
Biedrins said he remembers the days when his hustle and consistency made him a fan favorite. He said he remembers how he earned the six-year, $54 million contract he's now jeered about (which has two years, $18 million left).
For Bogut, Biedrins' best hope at a revival is remembering history.
"He just needs to realize that he's not a bad basketball player," Bogut said. "Regardless of what people say, he can help us. My message to him would be, 'You can help us. What people say? Who cares. You proved that a couple of years ago. No excuse why you can't do it now.' "