The NBA’s free agent market opened for business this past July 1, and Warriors Owner Joe Lacob, General Manager Bob Myers, Assistant GM Kirk Lacob and Head Coach Mark Jackson were in Los Angeles, making their first pitch to Denver Nuggets swingman Andre Iguodala.
Iguodala quickly made it clear that Golden State was his No. 1 choice in free agency, but the Warriors’ foursome still continued their full-court press. At one point during the meeting with Iguodala and his agent, Rob Pelinka, the Warriors played a video message from point guard Stephen Curry.
“Steph said it’s a great organization, getting things turned around,” Iguodala said. “They want you. We can do some great things. Of course I already knew that, but just hearing it from the team’s franchise player, the face of the team, it means more than people think. Just knowing someone’s welcoming you.
“I don’t know if I really needed to be recruited, but Steph helped. I still have the DVD. I showed it to my son,” he said of Andre Iguodala II. “My son was like, ‘We’re going to go to the Golden State Warriors.’”
Curry talked to and texted Iguodala throughout the free agent process, but his initial message continued to resonate.
“I was just telling him how great our organization is and the changes we made over the past couple years to put ourselves in a good position to be successful,” Curry said. “If he were to choose us in free agency and we were able to get the deal done that he’d be in a great spot, able to be in those playoffs, fighting for a championship. From Coach Jackson on down to the last man on the roster, we have a cohesive unit and a team that has great chemistry so he’d fit right in.”
Nine harrowing days later, the Warriors finally landed Iguodala from Denver in a sign-and-trade, as part of a three-team deal with Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush going from Golden State to Utah.
There were numerous times during that stretch, Iguodala said, when it looked as if the deal would never happen because the Warriors needed to clear enough salary cap space. But in the end, Myers and company got it done and Iguodala went to work for a Warriors team he had been admiring from afar.
Iguodala said Pelinka told him a few years ago that the Warriors were headed for a turnaround after Lacob and Peter Guber bought the team and added Jerry West to their executive board. At first, Iguodala was skeptical.
“And slowly but surely it started to happen,” Iguodala said. “It was like perfect timing the way things came about. The team is in a good place as far as having really good young talent, so we have many years ahead of us.”
Iguodala watched that young Warriors talent blossom last year during the regular season and in a first-round playoff series when the Warriors beat his Nuggets in six games.
“I saw a lot of pieces,” Iguodala said. “You saw a great player in Steph Curry, you saw a great player in David Lee. But also they played together as a unit. The floor was always opened up because you have some really good shooters on the wings. Harrison (Barnes) blossomed in the playoffs and played really well, in both (playoff) series. Klay (Thompson) being a game changer with his shooting ability, and (Andrew) Bogut being a force inside. It’s really hard to get a big man with such a high IQ. They’ve got two of them here. So you’ve got a really strong base. It was a great thing that they were able to keep all that. They didn’t lose any of their core, and to bring me in, hopefully I’ll be that piece to get them where everyone wants to be.”
The Warriors pursued the 6-foot-6, 207-pound Iguodala relentlessly because he has a rare set of skills -- offensively and defensively -- they believe can help take them to the next level. On defense, he’s an elite perimeter defender, who can match up against an opposing team’s top guards or forwards. On offense, Iguodala is a playmaker who can drive to the rim or create opportunities for his sharp-shooting teammates.
“He brings a skill set to our team that hopefully will make us better with the way he can guard four positions,” Curry said. “In transition he runs the floor extremely well, using his athleticism, and he’s able to actually initiate a lot of the offense and take some burden off of some of the ball handlers. He’s so well-rounded that he can play different roles when we need him to.”
Iguodala played his first eight NBA seasons for Philadelphia, which drafted him with the No. 9 overall pick in 2004 out of Arizona. He earned NBA All-Rookie First Team honors in the 2004-05 season, was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team in 2010-11 and was an Eastern Conference All-Star in 2011-12, his last season with the 76ers. He also won an Olympic gold medal in 2012 at the London Games as a member of Team USA. Philadelphia traded Iguodala to Denver as part of a 12-player, four-team trade on Aug. 10, 2012.
“He gives us a proven guy,” Jackson said. “He gives us versatility. He gives us a playmaker, which we needed. He gives us another lockdown defender. And he’s a guy that’s not afraid of the moment. The thing that I love about him is his versatility and his playmaking ability.”
For his career, Iguodala has averaged 15.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists in 695 regular-season games. In 41 playoff games, he has averaged 13.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists. But he’s known most for his defense, a skill he said came naturally. No coach had to convince him to play hard on both ends of the court.
“It was totally natural,” Iguodala said. “When I played, I just wanted to guard the best player, and I didn’t want him to score. That was just it, just competing. Along the way it just kept building that I could be a great defender. And then to get on the court when I first got into the league, it was because of my defense. It’s just been there my whole career. In high school I figured I’d get a few extra baskets by getting steals. I would just pressure up the ball. It just kind of happened like that.”
Iguodala grew up in Illinois as a huge Chicago Bulls fan. Michael Jordan, naturally, was his favorite Bulls player, but 6-8 swingman Scottie Pippen was 1-B to Jordan’s 1-A. Pippen was an eight-time NBA All-Defensive First Team choice, and Iguodala admired his ability to match up defensively against anyone from a power forward to a point guard -- including Jackson, a former NBA point guard.
“I saw him guard Coach Jackson in the (playoff) series against Indiana, kind of shut off the whole section of the court and made it difficult for Mark,” Iguodala said. “I wanted to be the best player so I thought in order for me to be the best player I had to guard the best player on the court. It came from that.”
Iguodala often matches up often against the NBA’s top scorers, which is what he’s been doing for nearly a decade.
“I know these guys in the league really well, going up against them for the last nine years,” he said. “I know their game, I know their tendencies, what they like to do. A couple of those guys I can just take out of the game. You take them out of the first five minutes of the game, they’re done.”
Iguodala said he’s been a versatile “Scottie Pippen type of player” on offense throughout his career. To Iguodala, being a playmaker means, “knowing how to play the game of basketball and not having to score, not having to be a volume shooter in order to be effective on the basketball court. Being able to rebound and two dribbles later I’m at the basket or I’m creating for one of my teammates. Also, being able to attack the rim, being a threat off the dribble. It’s kind of a triple threat -- being able to drive, being able to pass, being able to score, shoot.”
When he played against the Warriors last year, Iguodala admired their unselfish approach to the game and their high basketball IQs.
“It makes the game easier for everybody,” Iguodala said. “The game doesn’t have to be that hard. There are a lot of guys who average a lot of points, but they make the game hard for themselves and they make the game hard for their teammates, and that’s why you never really see them win or get deep in the playoffs. Those great teams, teams who win deep in the playoffs -- the San Antonio Spurs, the Miami Heat -- that ball was moving, and everyone was unselfish.”
Lee said Iguodala has fit in with the Warriors on and off the court, which is what he expected.
“We saw it last year, having to play against him,” Lee said. “He’s a guy that’s very versatile on both ends of the floor and I think is going to really help us get where we want to go this year. And he’s a great character guy, and that’s something that we’ve built with all character guys these past couple years, and that’s something that’s huge for us. He’s been a great addition to our locker room and for us on the court.”
Eric Gilmore is a freelance sports writer based in the Bay Area