Andre Iguodala: Olympic Team Finalist / Sixers Persona Non Grata

Last week, the U.S. National team announced the 20 finalists for the 2012 U.S. men’s basketball team that will compete in London. The list is full of names that even the most casual NBA fan would know in a heartbeat: Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant…and Andre Iguodala. You read that correctly. The maligned Sixers wingman is one of only TWENTY players that will be eligible for the 2012 U.S. Olympic basketball team. Only 12 players will be chosen for the team (though there will be alternates); Howard and Knicks center Tyson Chandler are the only centers, and some combination of Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Derek Rose will man the point guard spot, leaving just 7-8 spots available on the rest of the roster. But while Iguodala is not likely to make the final roster, I would not be surprised to see him chosen as an alternate, or even make the team if one or more of the superstars choose not to play.

U.S.A. basketball realized several years ago that it takes more than just a litany of star players to win gold medals in international competition. The committee started choosing players that could contribute without needing the ball; complimentary players that would do the dirty work, like Tayshaun Prince and Chandler. A basketball team operates best when its pieces fill specific roles that fit together like a puzzle.It’s why the 2004 Detroit Pistons easily handled the star-laden Lakers in the Finals, and why people still question whether the Miami Heat can win a title as currently constructed. Andre Iguodala, in many ways, is the perfect complimentary piece. He can do just about anything that is asked of him: rebound, handle the ball, finish on the break, defend the other team’s best player. Other than leading scorer Kevin Durant, he may have been the most important player on the 2010 world championships team that took first place in Turkey, despite not having a roster full of the NBA elite. Coach Mike Krzyzewski continually raved about Iguodala’s defense and unselfishness. The irony is that while Iguodala may be coveted by the national team for his unique set of skills, most Sixer fans can’t wait to get rid of him.

Last night, I attended my third Sixers game of the young season with my daughter and The Bishop. The Sixers, as usual, refused to quit and erased a ten point fourth quarter deficit against a very good Denver Nuggets team. The Bishop mirrored the Sixers grit, refusing to give up on his pursuit of a T-shirt launched into the stands, using his reach to ward off anyone unlucky enough to get in his way as he procured my daughter a souvenir. Like the Bishop, Iguodala was right in the middle of the action, though his effort was on the court; rebounding, running the floor for dunks, making sweet passes, and forcing turnovers. As usual, he filled the stat sheet with his effort despite having a rough shooting night, and finished one assist shy of a triple double. But with the Sixers down 1 in the final seconds of regulation, Iguodala was fouled on a drive to the basket. The crowd immediately held its collective breath. Not one person in that arena (except maybe eternal optimist Doug Collins) wanted Iguodala to be standing on that foul line with the game in his hands – including him.

It’s in the eyes, and the body language. Some guys want the ball in that situation and have no fear attacking the rim; seeking contact because they have the confidence to knock down those free throws in the final seconds. While Iguodala certainly embraces having the ball at the end of games, he lacks the confidence and ice in his veins to walk calmly to the line, and knock down free throws while barely blinking. It’s a huge reason why his end of game arsenal largely consists of a step back jumper, despite his ability to get to the rim and create shots for others.

So Iguodala stepped to the line…and promptly missed the first free throw, only further cementing his reputation as a “bum” in Philadelphia, unfairly or not. Today, the conversation on the radio, and among fans, will only center on the missed free throw; on the blown opportunity to win the game. There will be raised voices screaming for Iguodala to be shipped out for expiring contracts, or a loaf of bread. Iguodala’s effort in the Sixers comeback will be ignored, and completely forgotten in the haste to proclaim that “He stinks.”

I like Andre Iguodala as a basketball player. I appreciate what he brings to the table in the same way the U.S. National team does when they consider him for the Olympic team. I agree with the argument put forth by guest contributor Vanilla Blunder in the Guest House. I don’t plead for him to be traded, unless the Sixers get proper value in return. I understand that value is much higher than most Sixers fans believe, since they would likely move him for the first offer that came their way. Only the redundant presence of Evan Turner, and his similar skill set, make me think an Iguodala trade is wise at all. I think Iguodala can be a vital piece on a team that wins an NBA title, maybe even the Sixers.

But with 4 seconds left and the game in the balance, I didn’t want him on that free throw line either.

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