The NBA’s owners and players agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement, which isn’t a surprise since it might be the healthiest professional league in the world. It sure seems that way … anecdotally, at least.
The new CBA brought some good news to Golden State, in that there weren’t any obvious bits of legislation meant to break up the Warriors. However, they’re still going to be up against it when they try to keep the core together after this season. With Steph Curry able to sign an extension in the $200 million range, and no “Bird rights” to provide cap cushion for their other obvious max free agent, Kevin Durant, some difficult choices will need to be made. And the names that keep coming up are Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.
Livingston is a fine player, a great role model in multiple ways (his comeback story is an all-timer, and he recently donated $1 million to the elementary school he attended in Peoria, Illinois). But Iguodala’s presence cannot be overstated, even after his athleticism has dipped from nuclear to slightly above-average. The Warriors cannot let him go under any circumstances. And that’s not just in reference to his playing career, either.
When Iguodala’s desire to come to Golden State allowed Bob Myers to finagle a three-team deal that brought him here, it signaled the first time that the Warriors were thought of as a destination team for anyone other than stat-chasers or fringe players looking to hang on. Since then, his on-court roles have been many: integral member of the “Death Lineup,” perimeter defender, selfless facilitator, fearless postseason producer, Finals MVP.
But if he’s secretly the league’s best bench player over the last two years (he’ll never win Sixth Man because he doesn’t score enough, but he’s twice as valuable as Jamal Crawford), off the court he’s an All-Star. He’s clearly a decent recruiter, because Durant is here and Iguodala was one of the four players who went to the Hamptons. But his abilities to lead and teach could be most important.
Iguodala is a perfect leader in today’s league, because everyone reads and watches everything and the reasons to resent teammates and coaches are infinite. And make no mistake, Iguodala is already a coach.
Generally when someone is called “coach” and they don’t have “coach” in their job title, it’s done in a derogatory way. I remember playing baseball with a kid we called “Coach Danny,” who constantly told everyone else what to do while ignoring his own faults — which were many. (Not coincidentally, his father was the coach of the team and he ignored his son’s mistakes while harping on ours.) When we found out last year that Trent Baalke was coaching some of his prized early-round defensive backs, the 49ers GM didn’t gain extra respect. If anything, he was seen as overly meddlesome and perhaps ignoring the duties he wasn’t performing all that well.
Iguodala isn’t annoying or overbearing, or focusing on others instead of looking in the mirror. It’s pretty clear that the players he mentors feel extraordinarily lucky to have him around. In fact, in a perfect world the Warriors would keep him as a player for another season or three, and add him to the Steve Kerr’s coaching staff the minute he retires. A Warrior for life. Who else deserves such an honor than a player who so distinctly put the team’s already improving culture into overdrive?
Easier said than done, of course. Iguodala loves to golf and seems to care as much about the Silicon Valley VC life as the basketball one he seems quite comfortable in, and coaching requires an amount of time Iguodala may not want to invest. But if the Warriors need him to take below market value to stick around after this season as a player, and a wink-wink deal with a promise of future employment after his playing days might nudge him toward the dotted line (totally against the NBA’s rules, but so is tampering), it would be a no-brainer.
After Ian Clark scored a career-high 23 against Portland, someone asked him how watching Curry has helped him understand and thrive in his role as a combo guard (distributing and scoring … OK, mostly scoring). Clark said Curry was a big help, but made sure to throw in Iguodala as an influence/example, to the point where it seemed pretty obvious that Iguodala has done most of the heavy lifting when it comes to teaching to Clark how he’ll succeed in the league.
“So far, I think I’m still figuring it out, being able to play both positions,” he said. “I’ve come a long way, but it’s still something I’m trying to harness and do a good job at. Watching Steph and also talking to Andre as well, it’s about learning to pick your spots of when to attack and when not to.”
That’s not a knock on Curry — only a select handful of players are superstars and only a handful of those superstars would be great coaches. Curry works at his craft like no other, but he’s not much of a talker/yeller/teacher. Green is a talker/yeller, but I’m not sure many of his teammates would give him a high score on ratemyprofessors.com (and Green couldn’t care less). Iguodala is ridiculously sarcastic and strives to make his interviews dry in order to discourage the media from seeking him out, but there are too many examples of him lifting his teammates up to come to any other conclusion than he’s making the team better at all times, in ways no other Warrior can match. And when Iguodala does speak, it seems like it’s either about tech ventures or the brightness of his teammates’ futures.
— 2014: “Now I’ve done what I was supposed to do, contract-wise, and I can sacrifice,” he says. “It’s really hard for guys like Klay [Thompson, the Warriors’ third-year shooting guard]. It’d be hard for me to say, ‘Klay, don’t go out there and try to get your money.’ There have been many times I’ve been wide open and I pass it, because I say, ‘This young guy’s gotta eat! Klay, get your money!’ You gotta take care of each other. Now I’m in a position where I can take care of my other guys.”
— 2014: “That’s not going to happen,” Iguodala told Sirius XM. “I want to clear that up right now. We should not trade Klay Thompson. “I tell Klay this every day. I text Klay and say, ‘Don’t worry. I’m your man. I’m going to make sure you get paid. I’m going to get you the max (contract). You’ll be taken care of. Don’t stress.’”
— 2014: “It’s not just Klay, but I want Steph (Curry) to maximize his career. I want him to get paid as much as possible on and off the court. Draymond Green’s in a contract year, too, so I’m going to be looking to give him a couple extra. He’s going to fill up the basket a little bit more with me on the court with him as well.”
— 2016: “He’s gonna take my job,” Iguodala, smiling, said of guard Patrick McCaw. “I’m gonna be out of a job.”
Myers has often said that acquiring Iguodala was the most difficult accomplishment of his career. Hopefully for the Warriors he can figure out a way to keep him around as long as he wants to remain in the league as a player (and coach).