By Doug Russell Special to Published Jan 27, 2012 at 11:00 AM

He plays hard, he is a leader on and off the court, and the Bucks have shown themselves to be mired in terrible funks without him.

But after yet another debilitating injury to a franchise that needed another sucker punch to the gut as much as a Kardashian needs another television show, the question has to be asked. How much longer should the Bucks rely on Andrew Bogut?

To Bogut's credit he has always, when he is able to, played in pain. Few around the NBA doubt his desire or effort. Most, however, doubt his durability and ability to play a full season.

It was revealed Thursday that Bogut's left ankle was fractured the night before when he landed awkwardly on Rockets guard Kyle Lowry's foot while going after a rebound in Milwaukee's 105-99 win at Houston. Bucks general manager John Hammond says that Bogut is out indefinitely.

Over the years, Bogut has missed time with various injuries spanning most of his body. In April, 2010, he landed awkwardly on his right arm after completing a dunk at the south end of the Bradley Center court. The screams of pain could be heard from the upper deck; Bogut's arm was shattered. And while he was able to come back and play 65 games last year, his arm was still in excruciating pain as his offensive game suffered.

When Hammond was hired as Bucks general manager in 2008, one of the first moves he made was to sign his starting center to a 5-year, $60 million contract extension. Since then, while Bogut has played brilliant defense, his body, while still in his mid-20s, has begun to break down.

In 2008-09 he missed the final 31 games of the season with a lower back injury, and also was shelved for three games earlier in the year with a bone bruise on his knee. Two years earlier, Bogut missed the final 16 games of the season with mid-foot sprain.

In training camp after the NBA lockout ended, Bogut even addressed the notion that he was injury prone.

"It's the stigma that I've always heard, the frustrating one," Bogut said at the time. "The only real injuries I've got have come from stress fractures. The arm thing was just a freak thing. So it's frustrating to be labeled with that. But at the same time, I have the motivation to try and come back and prove I can stay injury-free for a whole season and have a good season."

Unfortunately, after just 17 games into the abbreviated 66-game schedule, Milwaukee faces the likelihood of missing their most important player for the bulk of the season. To be sure, it is frustrating for the team, the fans, and most of all, Bogut himself.

"Thanks for all the support fans (and hate from some)," Bogut said Thursday via Twitter. "I will get back from this. Injury was beyond my control. First step, walking again."

Here's the rub with Bogut. Fans so desperately want to love him. With the advent of "Squad 6" at the Bradley Center, he has literally donated thousands of tickets to fans to try to create some atmosphere in the library-silent arena. He is passionate about helping flood victims in his native Australia. Here in the states, he interacts with fans via social media. He is (when healthy) also the rarest of breed: a NBA All-Star caliber player that actually wants to be here in Milwaukee.

Professionally, Bogut has always been respectful to the media, and has taken the mantle of leadership when Michael Redd was completely unwilling or unable to do so.

But there is the issue of the injuries; a full season's worth since Bogut was the No. 1 overall selection in he 2005 NBA Draft. Clearly, judging from his Twitter feed, he has heard the negative comments, and is sick of them.

"Good thing about these pain killers is I'm enjoying blocking all these key board heroes with their negativity! Making my night less boring," Bogut tweeted after news of his latest malady became public.

On one hand, Bogut's lashing out is understandable. Even back in training camp he was defensive about all of the time he missed.

"I can't change the fact that I came down off the rim and broke my arm," Bogut said of his 2010 injury that caused him to miss the final two weeks of the regular season and the Bucks playoff series vs. Atlanta. "If you call that injury-prone, you're absolutely stupid. That's a freak accident.

"Most of my injuries have been impact injuries. That comes down to things like diving for loose balls; setting hard screens ... I've been hit in the shin and tore a membrane in my shin. I can't control that."

Again, no one questions Bogut's effort. And while his training camp explanation is rooted in factual evidence, to borrow a phrase from Packers coach Mike McCarthy, it's all about "accountability and availability."

Bogut, while being one of the guttiest warriors in the game, simply has not been available, whether it is his fault or not. And while he has emerged as one of the best post defenders in the game, relying as heavily as the Bucks do on him has not proven to be a successful strategy.

Unfortunately, there are few options. Holding out hope that Larry Sanders will develop his potential is hardly a winning strategy and Drew Gooden is just simply a much better forward than center. But who can you trade for or bring in as a free agent? If there was a better option than what the Bucks already have, that player either wouldn't be available or would have a job.

Remember, what makes Bogut so valuable is his skill set that is hard to duplicate. When you combine his toughness, his ability to shoot and pass on offense and his shot blocking and rebounding prowess on defense, you have the makings of an All-Star.

But because 'toughness" and "durability" are two very different things, Bogut has yet to make it to that elusive midseason celebration. That in seven years he has only played one full season – his first – becomes troubling as he get older.

As has been discussed in this (and other) columns relentlessly, this is a critical time for the future of the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bradley Center needs to be replaced, and there is absolutely no substantive desire whatsoever on the public's part to step up and make that a reality. The only way for the Bucks to impart the need upon the masses that they are worth saving for future generations is to start winning on a consistent basis.

And while it isn't fair to put the entire existence of the franchise on one player, right now that is what Andrew Bogut means to the Milwaukee Bucks. With him, they have a chance to be competitive and contend for a playoff spot; perhaps even get out of the first round in more than a decade.

Without him, and you just pray that we aren't witnessing the beginning of the end.

Doug Russell Special to

Doug Russell has been covering Milwaukee and Wisconsin sports for over 20 years on radio, television, magazines, and now at

Over the course of his career, the Edward R. Murrow Award winner and Emmy nominee has covered the Packers in Super Bowls XXXI, XXXII and XLV, traveled to Pasadena with the Badgers for Rose Bowls, been to the Final Four with Marquette, and saw first-hand the entire Brewers playoff runs in 2008 and 2011. Doug has also covered The Masters, several PGA Championships, MLB All-Star Games, and Kentucky Derbys; the Davis Cup, the U.S. Open, and the Sugar Bowl, along with NCAA football and basketball conference championships, and for that matter just about anything else that involves a field (or court, or rink) of play.

Doug was a sports reporter and host at WTMJ-AM radio from 1996-2000, before taking his radio skills to national syndication at Sporting News Radio from 2000-2007. From 2007-2011, he hosted his own morning radio sports show back here in Milwaukee, before returning to the national scene at Yahoo! Sports Radio last July. Doug's written work has also been featured in The Sporting News, Milwaukee Magazine, Inside Wisconsin Sports, and Brewers GameDay.

Doug and his wife, Erika, split their time between their residences in Pewaukee and Houston, TX.