SAN FRANCISCO — It speaks to Andre Iguodala’s versatility — both on and off the court — that Steve Kerr’s fondest memory of the recently retired forward whom he coached for seven seasons has little to do with basketball.
As the buzzer sounded on the first championship of the Golden State Warriors‘ dynasty back in 2014-15 — just minutes before Iguodala would be named NBA Finals MVP — he grabbed the ball, ran to Kerr and said, triumphantly: “We’re going to Augusta!”
An avid golfer, Iguodala had been promised that if the Warriors won the title, he would be able to play on the same course where The Masters takes place.
There are those who march to the beat of their own drum. Iguodala marches to the vibrations of an electric mandolin.
On Friday evening, hours after Iguodala officially announced his retirement, Kerr showered the 19-year veteran with the most effusive praise — unequivocally crediting him for starting the Warriors’ run of four titles in eight seasons. But it wasn’t only Iguodala’s phenomenal play that reverberates to this day in Kerr’s heartstrings. It was also his willing sacrifice to come off the bench in his second season with Golden State, after starting every game the previous season for Mark Jackson, and just three years removed from being named an All-Star with the 76ers.
“He was a foundational piece of what has been one of the great runs in NBA history,” Kerr said of Iguodala prior to the Warriors’ preseason finale against the Spurs on Friday. “In many ways, Andre set the tone for the whole thing by agreeing to come off the bench in 2014-15 — really sacrificing and making the move that unlocked the team, that allowed Harrison [Barnes] to thrive, that strengthened our bench, but also set a time for unselfishness, and team-first mentality.”
Iguodala’s acceptance of his role gave Kerr a stabilizer in the second unit, a willing passer, a Swiss Army knife defender capable of guarding any player — a “babysitter” who knew that the team’s best chance of winning was to find ways to get the ball into the hands of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
“You look at the type of player [Iguodala] was,” Kerr continued. “Just incredibly smart, amazing feel at both ends, was always a step ahead of everybody else on the floor, elite defender, and the perfect complement to the group we had because he was able to expose the defense and get shots for Steph and Klay, and cover up at the other end defensively when we made mistakes. So, Andre was just special.”
Though Kerr said that Iguodala hasn’t been around the team much this season, the 2023-24 version of Golden State would be wise to take a page out of his storybook. When Draymond Green eventually returns from an ankle injury, either he, Chris Paul or Kevon Looney will have to come off the bench. Looney is the easy choice — a selfless player who will do anything asked of him — but Kerr has repeatedly stated his penchant for starting Looney to establish a defensive identity. Going small, with Paul, Curry, Thompson, Green and Andrew Wiggins, would seems to veer in the opposite direction.
So, if it does come down to either Paul or Green coming off the bench, Iguodala would serve as the perfect precedent. He still played close to starter minutes, and was even inserted into the first unit in the 2015 Finals against the Cavs, largely to guard LeBron James, which helped win him that Finals MVP.
However, sacrifice isn’t as easy as it sounds. Paul has started every single game in his 18 NBA seasons. Green came off the bench last postseason against the Sacramento Kings following his suspension for stomping on the chest of Domantas Sabonis, though one of the reasons he gave was that Golden State had won the previous game, and you don’t mess with something that’s working in the playoffs.
Well, this isn’t the playoffs and we’re dealing with two of the strongest egos the NBA has ever seen with Paul and Green. Injuries may prevent a decision from being forced right away, but Kerr is going to have to massage the situation delicately if the Warriors are going to rebound from a disappointing 2022-23 season and become title contenders once more.
Luckily, thanks to Iguodala, the franchise doesn’t have to look far for a beaming example of how well things can go when sacrifices are made for the greater good.
“He sets a tone, he’s respected by everybody, he speaks when it’s important,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said of Iguodala on Friday. “If he does speak, everyone respects what he says, and those kind of guys are often rare. They don’t need to beat their chest, they don’t need to talk all that much, but it’s there, it’s real, it’s genuine — and he is one of those kind of players. Just an ultimate winner, and Steve [Kerr] depended on him a lot.”