I was a rising fifth grader when the Philadelphia 76ers drafted a lanky 6'6" kid named Andre Iguodala out of Arizona with the 9th overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft. Just three years prior, I experienced my earliest professional basketball memories of Allen Iverson putting up 30 shots a game during the Sixers' run to the 2001 NBA Finals. In the year since Larry Brown had left in 2003, I was still clutching the sincere joy from an Eastern Conference championship and AI stomping over Tyronn Lue, but starting to lose faith that the boys of the then-First Union Center would be able to get back to the conference finals anytime soon.
But then, Iguodala's fresh face, exciting raw athleticism and stoic attitude became Iverson's sidekick. I started to fall in love with the AI who wore #4, similar to how San Antonio Spurs fans have recently developed school-girl crushes on Kawhi Leonard. Iguodala, wearing just a sweatband on his left elbow, would camp out in the corner while Iverson dribbled the shot clock dead and tried to weave his way through what seemed like seven defenders. Every now and then Iguodala would swoop in and smash home one of Iverson's errant runners or finish an alley-oop from him and the diminishing crowd would go into a frenzy.
Yet the Sixers' Billy King-led front office knew two AI's and a cast of random role players--that are mostly out of the league today--wouldn't be enough to truly compete in the postseason. Consequently, I arrived at my designated seat at the kitchen table for breakfast on Thursday, Feb 24, 2005 to learn that the 76ers had traded for Chris Webber in the wee hours of Wednesday night before the NBA's Trade Deadline that season. In front of my chair, my dad had kindly laid out that day's front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer with a post-it note that simply read, "Big move, huh?"
The Sixers, who were 26-27 when they traded for Webber, ultimately ended the '04-05 regular season as the 7-seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. With Webber now in the picture, Iguodala changed his jersey to #9. They would go on to lose to the 2-seeded Detroit Pistons 4-1 in a best-of-seven series, but Iguodala showed tremendous flashes of what was to come from the promising rookie who had played and started all 82 games of his first season in the League.
In his rookie campaign, Iguodala averaged 9.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 32.8 minutes per game. He was like my prized possession. I had watched his every move from my dad's season-ticket seats 12 rows behind the Sixers' bench. He had even started wearing the Nike 2004 Hurache's coincidentally after I had bought them for my travel basketball season that winter. It was a match made in heaven.
In '05-06, Iguodala continued to improve. He put up a nightly line of 13.2 points 5.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 39.0 minutes per game. He was excelling as the third-option/perimeter defender and freaky leaper the Sixers had drafted him to be. He'd wait in the corner while Webber and Iverson ran endless pick-and-rolls and give-and-go's, then slash to the basket for backdoor dump passes. He erupted in the Rookie Challenge during All-Star weekend for 30 points and earned the game's MVP honors. Then, a night later, he narrowly fell to Nate Robinson in the Dunk Contest by one point. But, the defining moment of the night was Iguodala's slam from behind the basket after receiving a pass from Iverson off the backside of the backboard. The League was swooning over him, and it wasn't fair. Nobody had really cared that much about him the last year. Nobody had cared about him as much as me.
But, despite his improving game and rising status in the League, the Sixers were struggling outside of their phenom sophomore. The team failed to make the playoffs in 2006 even with two All-Stars in Iverson and Webber. Then quickly, by January of 2007, the 76ers had traded Iverson to the Denver Nuggets and waived Chris Webber, who was then subsequently signed by the Pistons. The team abruptly stopped the car, kicked Iverson out of the driver's seat--granted after he clashed with the front office--and gave the keys to a new AI. I cried when I found out Iverson, my childhood hero, was traded. It was during a middle school basketball practice after school. I excused myself from the gym to go to bathroom and wailed in a stall for a good five minutes. But then I realized Iggy was still here and it was time for my preteen role model to lead the team to victory.
Iguodala accepted the challenge. After averaging 13.9 points per game in November 2006 alongside Iverson, he would go on to drop 18.2 per night on the season, in a contract year no less.
And even though the Sixers failed to make the playoffs for the second-straight year, new GM Ed Stefanski and company were ready to solidify Iguodala as the face of the franchise. In August 2008, Iguodala and the team agreed to a six-year, $80 million deal while they also inked former Los Angeles Clipper Elton Brand to an $80 million deal of his own. With their two apparent stars--Brand was a two-time NBA All-Star--Andre Miller, Sammy Dalembert, Thad Young and Lou Williams forming out a young and exciting core, the 76ers were considered to be the next up-and-comers in the Eastern Conference.
By that point, I was a pubescent teenager, already shaving in eighth grade. And, as my body was changing, I was excited to see my beloved hometown franchise transitioning into a new age as well.
But, the 76ers failed to beat the Detroit Pistons again, this time in the 2008 playoffs. Even after the Sixers had taken a 2-1 series lead with Game 4 on their home court on the now-Wachovia Center floor, the Sixers came up short and eventually dropped three straight. The same happened the following postseason, with the Sixers taking a 2-1 lead against the Orlando Magic, the team lost three-straight games to Dwight Howard's crew. The next season, in '09-10, the Sixers missed the postseason in its entirety and gobbled up Evan Turner with the No. 2 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.
I was developing a bottomless rage throughout my core. I started to get fed up with who I now considered an overpaid Iguodala. I started cursing Stefanski for awarding him with a lucrative contract in hopes that he became a perennial All-Star. The nickname "Iggy" felt like an immaterial poison in my ears.
By the time the '11-12 season and my senior year in high school arrived, I had already had my Mean Girls epiphany about the Sixers supposed franchise player. I hated Iguodala like Cady Heron hated Regina George. I hated him. I hated him!
I detested Iguodala not for accepting an eight-figure contract before his 25th birthday. To be honest, I hated Iguodala for nothing he did. I simply hated him for the fact that his gigantic contract was taking up cap room for my team to bring in the necessary talent to turn the Sixers into a contender. Frankly, he was earning all the money that was supposed to be paid to the Batman to his Robin. I knew the Iguodala who wore #9 as Venom and the one who had worn #4 as Spiderman.
Why not take my anger out on Elton Brand? He wasn't drafted by the Sixers. I hadn't watched him grow as a player. He didn't turn from all that stood for youth, energy, and the future to a dark symbol for the Sixers' perennial writhing in NBA mediocrity.
So, when the 76ers traded Iguodala in the four-team deal that shipped Dwight Howard to the Lakers last summer and brought Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia, I celebrated. I cheered because I knew the inconvenient truth about Iguodala that it seems nobody else in the basketball world can understand.
An NBA team can't win with Iguodala, a third-option on offense, making more than $10-12 million tops. It's simply not possible. The numbers just don't add up.
The league salary cap for the '13-14 season is set at $58.5 million. In today's NBA financial landscape, the top two players on a contending team are paid between $14 million and the $24 million per year max. Let's say a team has their top two players making a combined $35 million per year--and that's generous--and then add in Iguodala at the $15 million he likely command on the open market this offseason and you have a staggering $50 million in three players. That then leaves $8.5 million to sign nine other players to fill out a championship roster. It's just not plausible.
So, if you want to pay Iguodala $15 million, you're going to have to sign him to be your second best player. But, he's proved in his years since he and Iverson parted ways that he's not as efficient with the ball in his hands more. As his usage rate catapulted from 14.7 percent to the low 20s after Iverson left, his shooting percentages took a massive dip. Simply enough, with more shot attempts, his percentages declined.
In his five full seasons as the consensus best player in Philly, Iguodala never even came close to his field goal percentages in his first two years in the League with Iverson. In those two seasons, he shot 49.3 percent and 50.0 percent from the field on just 6.7 and 8.4 shots per game and a combined 75.0 percent from the line. In his last six years in Philadelphia, Iguodala attempted at least 10.2 shots per game in each season--an average 13.0 FGA per game per season--and only shot 45.4 percent from the field. Further, his free throw shooting rapidly declined every season to a putrid 61.7 percent in his final year in the now-Wells Fargo Center.
This summer, if a team pays Iguodala over $10-12 million, they will be writing their own NBA death sentence. Financially and statistically, it's nearly impossible to pay Iguodala that kind of money on a complete team with sufficient superior talent or to rely on him as more than a third-option. I wish desperately for the young kangaroo-like athletic marvel that I fell in love with for that not to be the case, but it's the truth for the man who's contract set the 76ers back five years.
Today, as I look at Iguodala's player card on ESPN.com about to enter my second year of college, it's as if he's staring directly into my soul, attempting to burn the argument, "I'm a franchise player, damnit!" deep into my gut. But, unfortunately for the now unrestricted free agent, that message only makes me want to puke instead of filling my belly with white-hot compassion for the "blue-collar superstar" he was supposed to become.
Andre Iguodala won't ever win an NBA championship until he's paid correctly and plays with truly better players than himself on offense. It's inconvenient for whatever team overpays him this summer, but it's the truth.