Is the world ready for Andre Iguodala?
The world doesn't really know Andre Iguodala. With a new zip code, a new jersey on his chest, another coach to add to his list, but maybe a stable situation for the first time in his career, Iguodala's intention is to change that.
|Iguodala takes flight with the Nuggets this season. (Getty Images)|
DENVER -- The world doesn't really know Andre Iguodala.
He doesn't score 50 or do a lot of commercials. He's not saying hello to Brooklyn or loving LA. The world hasn't ever felt the need to get to know him, so it did what it does with most players who don't average 25 per game in a big market. It ignored him.
With a new zip code, a new jersey on his chest, another coach to add to his list, but maybe a stable situation for the first time in his career, Iguodala's intention is to change that.
"I think there's still a lot I can prove to people," Iguodala told CBSSports.com this week. "I think the basketball minds know I can play. I think I'm respected by those people.
"I think everybody wants to have respect [from people] that they got the most out of their careers."
It was a fairly dramatic summer for Iguodala, who learned in the midst of Team USA's Olympic gold-medal run that he'd been traded to the Denver Nuggets after eight seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers.
In interviews, he came off as terse, aloof, non-committal about the different laundry that he'd be wearing come fall, repeating over and over again about how he was focused on the game in front of him.
But Iguodala admitted this week that with texts and calls bombarding him about the trade, he had to take some time to just get away fom everything because of how "crazy" it was. And a future chance to show Philadelphia what they'd given up was on his mind as well.
"I'm in warmups, and I'm thinking 'Where am I going to move? Who's going to send my stuff back? Who's moving with me? When do we play Philly? I can't wait to play them.'"
He was drafted by Philadelphia in 2004 and eventually took over for Allen Iverson. Iguodala still speaks of the city fondly when it comes to its culture and food. He led the Sixers to a dramatic playoff upset last spring after Chicago's Derrick Rose went down to injury, then pushed the Celtics to seven games before falling, once again, to superior offense.
The Sixers swung for the proverbial fences this past summer, sending Iguodala to Denver and getting Andrew Bynum from the Lakers as part of the trade that landed Dwight Howard in Los Angeles. It ended a long and unstable relationship with Iguodala, who was constantly on the trade block even after being given an $80 million contract in 2008.
There was never any stability in Philadelphia during Iguodala's tenure. From the front office to the coaching staff to the roster, the Sixers were always in flux. Iguodala would swing between being the underrated basketball hero of the town, an elite defender and play-maker, and an offensively-limited player who couldn't take the game over with his scoring ability.
With all that talent, why wasn't he just playing the part of the volume scorer like his predecessor, Iverson, efficiency be damned?
"First of all, in the East, there weren't that many possessions." (This is true. According to NBA.com, of the 10 lowest teams in number of possessions per game last season, eight were from the Eastern Conference, three from the Atlantic Division, including Philadelphia.)
"And on the team I was on," Iguodala continued, "I lead the team in assists. So I was put in the position to be a facilitator. But it wasn't put out there like I was a facilitator. When we lost games, it would be that I didn't score enough. But when we're winning and the ball's moving, it's flowing, 'Andre's a great facilitator.'
"So my whole thing is just go out there and do what I do. Try to get the most out of my teammates. Help them improve as players and as people. Make the most of the stuation and enjoy it."
The resentment of his situation over the past several seasons isn't exactly buried deep beneath the surface.
"I haven't really enjoyed basketball a whole lot the last couple of years," Iguodala said. "Last year was a big year for us, but it was just draining for the criticism to be there every single day."
Well, if it's basketball fun Iguodala needs to move his game to the next level, he has come to the right place, with the right attitude, and altitude. In Nuggets training camp, coach George Karl has noted that Iguodala established himself as the best player in camp almost immediately and consistently. His first days were spent getting to know teammates, watching how they work, establishing their habits.
In the days since, he has been the athletic demon the Nuggets traded for, getting into passing lanes with his size and quickness, then running the floor to draw defenders and switch-hand-passing to cutting monsters like Kenneth Faried.
From day one, Karl has spoken of Iguodala as the defensive presence that Denver needs to get over the hump. But Iguodala has made it clear that, in his mind, he's capable of doing more offensively; he just hasn't been asked to.
"Once again, you get that perception that you're just a defender, you're just an athlete, blah, blah, blah," Iguodala said. "I think that's what the perception was based on my last two years in Philly because I was the faciliator. They didn't want me to go out there and get 20-25 (per game) because when I got that, they said we couldn't win."
As proof, he offers an anecdote that reveals where his mental approach is now in his ninth season and the frustration that he has had for coaching staffs.
"I went through so much to prove myself in every single training camp because a lot of coaches would come in and say, 'Don't shoot threes. Don't shoot threes. Don't shoot threes. Drive and dunk. Drive and dunk.' And I would be like, 'I can shoot threes!'
"So in Doug Collins' first year, I didn't shoot threes because he was like, 'I don't want you shooting threes, I don't want that shot.'
"Last year, I said, 'I'm shooting it.' And what happened? Shot 38 percent from three, top-25 in the NBA from three and I'm supposed to be a non-shooter. You put so much work in, and then to be told, 'Don't do what you worked on all summer.'"
(Igoudala is a career 33 percent shooter from beyond the arc. He actually shot better than 39 percent on threes last season.)
The message is clear: Iguodala intends to give everyone an indication of what he's capable of on this new, offensive-minded team -- a faster, more athletic team than he has known.
At the same time, Iguodala has accepted a leadership role on this team. Karl has said both Iguodala and Andre Miller have been the clear-cut leaders in camp. Iguodala arrived in Denver weeks before he had said at his introductory press conference he would, getting to know teammates and running the stairs at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Second-year man Jordan Hamilton has had early and excess sessions with trainers and coaches and yet said when he arrives, Iguodala's already on the floor.
Iguodala established a close connection with young Evan Turner in Philadelphia out of a bond from coming from the Midwest. It was a similar bond that brought him close to rookie Anthony Davis on Team USA.
"It's something I heard from the older guys when I got into the league," Iguodala said. "Which is we want to take care of our league. And part of that is making sure the young guys know what it's about.
"Davis -- we connected right away. We're both from the Midwest. He's from Chicago, I'm from Springfield, and I have some ties to Chicago. We just connected. In the locker room, we'd see guys do something and we'd just laugh at it. You've got guys with egos and the way they carried themselves, it would be funny. He and I would catch it, and we'd laugh."
Ego has rarely been something Iguodala has been cricitized for. Instead, he is too often talked about as not having enough, not being willing or able to carry the team on his back offensively. But from Iguodala's perspective, that's a choice, not a limitation.
"I'd rather get a triple-double than score 40."
In a loaded Western Conference with the reigning conference-champion Thunder and the new-look Lakers, along with the star power of the Clippers and the veteran experience of the Grizzlies, it has to be easy for Iguodala, who's a pretty rational dude, to consider the Nuggets' relative position in the league. But once you get beyond that, Iguodala says the only way to succeed in this league is to believe you can.
"I can look at rosters, and you can ask, 'OK, realistically, where are we at? Are we winning a championship?' You can answer that to yourself. Realistically you can answer that. But when you're going out there and you're preparing, working on your game, and you're in practice, you've got to prepare like you're trying to win a championship.
"So you're getting your mindset. 'OK, every game we want to win.' And the first thing you get to the playoffs. You get to the playoffs, and you see what happened last year. Derrick Rose goes down. Then we get to Boston. We took them to seven games. Looking back, we're saying, 'Man, we could have beat them.' They took Miami to seven games! We were right there.
"You've got to believe in yourself. There's no other reason to play. There is no other reason to play."
The world might not know Iguodala, but his attitude this season has some things it would like to show the world. The only question is if this new opportunity will finally put him on the map and if a new role in a new city with a new team means a new Iguodala.
If it does, the world could be in for a surprise. Iguodala is intent on changing the perception of him. But as an All-Star and a legitimately elite defender, why not just do his thing and not try for much more?
"You can't settle. That's just life in general."
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