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The Denver Nuggets should trade for Andre Iguodala

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If the Nuggets truly want to take the next step in a season where there is no lock for the NBA title, they will need to fix the hole on the wing

NBA: Finals-Golden State Warriors at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, Marc Stein of the New York Times reported that if veteran wing Andre Iguodala were to hit free agency, the Nuggets were expected to make a pitch in bringing him back to Denver.

They should just trade for him instead.

After the news broke that Kawhi Leonard will be signing with the Los Angeles Clippers and is teaming up with All-Star forward Paul George via trade, the entire landscape of the Western Conference has changed. The Warriors dynasty as we know it is dead. Both Los Angeles teams have two superstar players but will have questionable depth. The Rockets are self-imploding. Other teams have made big moves this offseason, but it’s safe to say the Western Conference is up for grabs this season. No one team is a lock.

Meanwhile, based on the simple moves made this offseason by Denver, it is clear that the Nuggets are going all-in on the team as currently constructed.

That is perfectly fine – in the regular season the Nuggets will be in the upper echelon of the Western Conference once again. But they are also banking on a continued upward linear trajectory. Just as they could take a top seed and make a deep playoff run again, they could very well win fewer games than last season, or even find themselves in an unfavorable match-up and lose in the first round.

But even with the playoff success already achieved last season, it’s also clear that the Nuggets are still missing one key piece that would truly put them over the edge sooner than later. A real weakness on the wing was exposed when Rodney Hood effectively won the second round series for Portland. Will Barton will be back, and this year the eggs also seem to be in the Michael Porter Jr. basket. However, lingering side effects from a sensitive back injury and now a knee sprain means that his health and ability to live up to the hype absolutely cannot be guaranteed.

That’s where Iguodala comes in.

On the court he’s a near perfect fit. With three of the NBA’s best wing players in the NBA in the Western Conference, Iguodala’s perimeter defense would be the main pull. Combine that with Paul Millsap’s leadership, and Denver would be taken to an elite level on defense.

Offensively Iguodala has proven with the Warriors that he is more than capable of fitting in and knocking down open shots. He is the glue guy of all glue guys and makes everyone around him better. He also has the experience need that would help take a young Denver team to the next level and beyond in the playoffs.

What about the elephant in the room?

There’s no denying Iguodala left Denver on a sour note. But the elephant doesn’t need to be quite as big as many are still making it out to be even six years later. This is a completely different Nuggets franchise from 2012-2013. None of those players are still around. The front office was overhauled and has since grown and built a culture of team-first players that are cut from the same cloth as Iguodala. Most importantly, Denver’s best asset now is a key reason Iguodala chose to go away in the first place.

Reading Iguodala’s recently published memoir, The Sixth Man, it’s clear that he places an incredibly high value on good coaches – not just for basketball purposes, but for believing in a player’s best interest, and even for simply being honest. Iguodala specifically details how betrayed he felt by Doug Collins during his last season in Philadelphia, culminating in the infamous story of how he got traded during the 2012 Olympics. Iguodala had spoken to Collins that morning about plans for the upcoming season. However, hours later, teammate Jrue Holiday mentioned that he too had been speaking with Collins, and ultimately broke the news to Iguodala that he was being traded.

On the contrary, Iguodala shares this interesting tidbit from that 2013 playoff series against Golden State:

“That was the year Mark Jackson caught flak for saying, ‘In my opinion they’re (Steph Curry and Klay Thompson) the greatest shooting backcourt in the history of the game.’ Reporters scoffed, fans laughed, and Jackson was roundly ridiculed. But as players, we took note of that… The fact that he was willing to make such a bold statement, to potentially take such heat for his players – there were not a lot of other coaches I could think of who seemed that devoted to the men on their team.”

Compare that to George Karl, whom Iguodala described as “quick to take credit when things went well but slow to take blame when they didn’t,” and it’s no wonder that he bolted.

Today, if there’s any coach in the NBA who is devoted to the men on their team, it’s Michael Malone. Just as Iguodala would be described as a “Malone guy” for his defense, work ethic and attitude, Malone would absolutely be considered an “Iguodala guy.” Every single player on the roster speaks so highly of Malone and how he has their back no matter what. He cares. He’s public about it. Malone is the reason the culture in Denver is so stable when so many locker rooms around the league are not. Malone and Iguodala would be a perfect marriage.

Iguodala devotes an entire chapter in his book on his time in the Mile High City. His praise for his teammates and the organization should not go unnoticed, but in the end he details his line of thinking following Danilo Gallinari’s devastating injury and the subsequent playoff exit:

“That was the unfortunate end of something that could have been much bigger... I had to look at the situation. I was 29 years old and about to start my tenth NBA season. And I hadn’t even sniffed an NBA Finals appearance. I liked playing in Denver, but I was not bullish on our prospects for the long term. I had learned to look at the bigger picture for the franchise. I knew everyone’s salary, and I knew that I had put up good numbers, and I felt, after having hung around there for a year, that I had a good sense of the team’s financial limitations. If they were to somehow re-sign me on a new contract, who else would they be able to bring in? Who else were they going to keep? It was a good team, but where are we going to go from here?”

In hindsight, Iguodala was right. That team as constructed was not going to win a title, especially with Gallo’s injury. There was no way to compete with the San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder and even the Warriors, and even if Denver somehow did make it to the Finals there were still LeBron-led juggernauts in the East.

Now the Nuggets are actually there. Led by an actual superstar in Nikola Jokic and the promising play of Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, Denver as-is is ready to be a player for years to come. Just like he did when Denver traded for him in 2012, Iguodala would be a huge boost to a team that is on the cusp – only this time, they are ready to contend for real.

Memphis has indicated that they are looking to trade Iguodala instead of offering him a buyout. A deal centered around Will Barton plus a young player such as Juancho Hernangomez or Trey Lyles would be a win-win, as the Grizzlies would get a veteran in Barton to help mentor and a young prospect as well. Denver could add Iguodala while allowing Michael Porter Jr. to ease his way into the league with caution.

If it came to it, another carrot the Nuggets could dangle is Malik Beasley, who would be ready to contribute from day one. Losing a proven prospect like Beasley would hurt more, but the upside from adding Iguodala now is too high.

The timing is right. If the Nuggets truly want to take the next step in a season where there is no lock for the NBA title, they will need to fix the hole on the wing. Iguodala is the man to do it. Don’t just wait for something that might not even happen in buyout. The Nuggets need to go get their man.