I keep thinking that the moment Danilo Gallinari grabbed his knee in agony against the Dallas Mavericks on April 4th, 2013 ... the fortunes of your Denver Nuggets, specifically head coach George Karl changed forever. The Nuggets ability to space the floor was gone and trying to rely on rookie Evan Fournier was only going to last, so long. Wilson Chandler was finally being game planned for and was woefully ineffective during the playoffs. Karl, who was fired in a chaotic offseason, was a victim of his own playoff failures as much as Gallo's partially torn ACL. The architect of the team, Masai Ujiri, bolted for greener Canadian pastures in Toronto with the Raptors ... plus a bigger say in operations and more money to spend.
I'm not convinced any of that made a difference to Andre Iguodala.
Let me get this out of the way. Iguodala was traded to the Nuggets and he owed the team absolutely zilch. He was an unrestricted free agent (after opting out of the final year of his contract which would have paid him $16 million). For all intents and purposes Iguodala performed like a professional in his time in Denver (until the end ... more on that later) and participated in the best regular season in Denver Nuggets history. He seemed to be a good teammate and tried his best to assimilate into Karl's dribble-drive/random offense. It was a struggle, but he seemed to be game.
That being said, Iguodala's suspect behavior and cozy relationship with the Golden State Warriors players, during the playoffs, was something he cannot be forgiven. One which, in hindsight, told us his vision was never directed exclusively at the Mile High City, but was divided. While his departure to the Dubs may not have been preordained it certainly was convenient, and it put the capstone on a month of interesting events that started at the end of the season.
During the last couple regular season games, I mentioned to my writing colleagues that Iguodala looked to be pulling a Marcus Camby (ie: stat stuffing). In a couple instances he very obviously got on Kenneth Faried and Kosta Koufos for taking "his" rebounds when Iguodala was gunning for triple doubles. What's wrong with that, you say? Nothing, but it was a rather dramatic change ... and it made for a rather interesting dichotomy down the stretch for the team. They were relying on a "playmaker" who wasn't the best player on the team (while he is a defensive genius, overall I would still take Ty Lawson and Gallo over Iguodala as playmakers), a turnover machine on offense, a horrible free throw shooter and someone who was inefficient from long range. Quite frankly, it just wasn't going to happen.
In the playoffs, as Iguodala publicly became more and more chummy with the players on the Warriors, it was then I had to make a value judgment as to how much Iguodala was being relied on as a playmaker. While he performed quite well during the series (averaged: 18 points, 8 rebounds, 5.3 assists) his average numbers are likely inflated by a monster Game 5. You can't take away the performance ... but coupled with his questionable behavior (getting chummy with Warriors players, likely being the "source" of Mark Jackson's "mole" rant after Game 5, going to chapel with the Warriors players) his overall performance comes away as empty. In fact, it drove home the point where you can't have a team where Iguodala is "the man". With Gallo out during the series he had too much responsibility and wasn't able to lift the Nuggets (neither could Lawson for that matter).
If the Nuggets were a championship contending team, then Iguodala would be an indispensable asset. Yet, as we saw, he could not carry a team ... and didn't look like he wanted to. So, in that sense it is a bit of blessing that he left and saved the Nuggets from spending $60 million over five years on someone who would be 34 years-old going on 35 at the end of his contract. There are those who say the contract negotiations got a bit "heated" with the Nuggets over a guaranteed fifth year, but let's face it, the Nuggets were still offering more money than Iguodala eventually accepted from the Warriors (four years, $48 million). That tells me that groundwork was laid during, or slightly before, the playoffs began for Iguodala's transition to the Warriors. Good for him.
Now, with the Nuggets increasingly sounding like Dick Monfort with the "letting the young guys play" mantra. We are left with a team that won 57 games, but seems to be pointed at a much lower win total next season. Not because Iguodala left, but rather because a curious set of circumstances have left the team relying on wholly unproven young players and a first year coach who will be taking a different approach from the one before. Would Iguodala have fit into this puzzle somewhere? Likely, but not as a great leader. In time, I think everyone will realize that Iguodala is best used on a team where his veteran leadership is needed as a role player ... not feature player.
Usually star players are identified immediately, and the Nuggets are hoping that their core of Gallinari and Lawson (and maybe Kenneth Faried) will develop into stars. That's a hard thing to do in the NBA. With the team's trajectory pointed in a decidedly downward slant, in time, we will look back and say that Iguodala's departure saved the Nuggets from pretending to be contenders when they were not.
It's an interesting, and backhanded, kind of favor.
Twitter: @jmorton78 https://twitter.com/#!/jmorton78
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