Very rarely in today’s NBA does a roster move that has the potential to yield major fruit come without significant risk.
Just ask Pat Riley of the Miami HEAT or Daryl Morey of the Houston Rockets—two of the league’s more respected front office architects.
Or, you could ask Bob Myers, the general manager of the Golden State Warriors.
Like his two predecessors, Myers took a calculated risk in acquiring Andre Iguodala last summer. It was a move that almost didn’t happen, and Stephen Curry remembers it quite well.
“I was in Charlotte,” Curry told Basketball Insiders when asked what he remembers of Iguodala’s surprising arrival to the Warriors. “I had talked to him the week before because we had thought the deal had gone through—the sign-and-trade with Denver. Then they pulled the plug on it. A week later, he called me right before it was announced and said that they had found a way to get it done.”
And now, with Iguodala added to their promising young core, the Warriors are hanging tough in one of the most competitive Western Conference playoff races the league has seen in recent years, and that is true despite the fact that Iguodala missed 12 games earlier this season with a strained hamstring.
His addition, though, has seemingly helped the Warriors take a step forward. Through 59 games last season, the Warriors were 33-26, as opposed to 36-23 this season, but their defensive improvement has been marked.
Last season, as a unit, the Warriors ranked 19th in the league in points allowed, giving up 100.3 points per contest. This year, their 98.7 points allowed ranks them ninth in the league.
Iguodala is not the only reason for such an improvement, but his acquisition emphasized the will of the organization to improve on the defensive end, even if it meant assuming a significant risk or upsetting the applecart of a young team that seemed to have promise on its side.
Last summer, the upstart Warriors were coming off of an impressive showing in the 2012-13 season. They had made the playoffs for just the second time in 19 years and had valiantly battled the eventual Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs before being eliminated in six games. Rookie Harrison Barnes was a major reason why.
Over the course of his rookie season, Barnes showed improvement in almost every facet of his game—appearing to adjust to the tempo of the NBA while playing with a poise and grace rarely seen by youngsters fresh out of college.
By the time the playoffs rolled around, Barnes had appeared to have found himself. His overall solid regular season—9.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game—was outdone by his playoff performance, and that is not something that is often seen in the NBA.
Barnes’ 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per playoff game came in some big moments, but it was his performances in Game 4 and Game 5 against the Spurs that really stood out seemed like a sign of what was to come.
When Barnes was recording his 26-point, 11-rebound double-double in that Game 4 victory for his Warriors—a game in which he made huge plays and shots down the stretch—he did not imagine that a demotion was in the cards for him.
Yet, that is exactly what Iguodala’s arrival meant, and therein lies Myers’ risk.
It defies conventional wisdom to bring in a player who plays the same position as a rookie that shows such promise, but believing that the Warriors were one perimeter defender away from entering the conversation of West contenders, the organization rolled the dice and brought in Iguodala, knowing that the move could stunt the development of Barnes.
Barnes, though, has taken it all in stride.
“Obviously, I know I’m a second-year player and we’re trying to win games,” Barnes said. “You have to do whatever you have to do to win and I know that my personal growth will take care of itself in time.”
As for Iguodala, Barnes has treated his arrival as an opportunity to learn from one of the more versatile swingmen the league has seen over the course of the past 10 years.
“He’s obviously a defensive specialist, just the way he’s able to get into the passing lanes helps us out so much, but also his ability to create shots for others,” Barnes said when asked what he takes from preparing with Iguodala. “He’s able to take Steph off the ball, he’s able to relieve the pressure, he’s able to get us in sets and really when plays break down, he’s a guy who can get into the lane and find guys, so he helps us out a lot.”
From outside, it is easy to overlook the humility displayed of a young player in Barnes’ predicament. Here, the conventional retort would be something along the lines of no one man being bigger than the team, but any young NBA player would feel some level of disappointment under these circumstances.
Some may cause a stink and in the past, locker room disharmony has resulted. After starting in each of the 81 games he played in as a rookie, this season Barnes has been relegated to sixth man and has made just 16 starts.
Still, to his credit, his primary concern is doing what he can to make the Warriors better and learning from Iguodala, not his next contract.
As the Warriors close in on their second consecutive playoff appearance, it appears that Myers may have made the correct call, just like Riley and Morey did once upon a time.
Back in June 2010, believing that he could sign Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James to the HEAT, Riley pulled off two risky trades engineered to clear the requisite cap space for his trio. On draft night in 2010, in a desperate attempt to surpass the $30 million in cap space that Donnie Walsh had hoarded for the New York Knicks, Riley traded Daequan Cook and a first-round draft pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for a second-round draft pick. Weeks later, he dealt Michael Beasley away for cents on the dollar, again for the same reason.
When Morey decided to make his bold strike in July 2012, he made two controversial decisions that left many in the industry scratching their heads—he opted to allow the promising Goran Dragic to leave Houston for the Phoenix Suns and decided that his team would be best served by amnestying the still-productive Luis Scola.
In both instances, Riley and Morey proved to make the correct decisions, but each had to assume a major risk in order to fulfill their visions.
For Myers, the signing of Iguodala to a four-year, $48 million deal was viewed by some with similar trepidation. Not because Myers had to deal away Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins and Brandon Rush, but because of what it may have meant for Barnes.
Fortunately for the franchise, everyone has bought in, and though the Warriors enter play on March 1 trailing the Clippers by 3.5 games for the Pacific Division lead, with Iguodala, the team is set to compete at the highest level come April and May.
“[Iguodala] is a very versatile player,” Curry said. “Since the injury he had earlier in the year, he’s come back and given us that depth at the wing spot where he gives us a great look defensively, being able to guard different positions. He’s a playmaker when he gets the ball, he penetrates gaps and gets guy open shots and he just makes timely plays that sometimes don’t show up on the stat sheet.
“We knew that he was going to make us better, so from seeing him in the playoffs to now seeing him in our lineup, that was definitely a huge bonus for us.”
David Lee has seen Iguodala up close for a number of years. Lee and Iguodala did battle many times between 2005 and 2010. During that five-year stretch, the two were division rivals for the Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers, respectively.
“As I knew from his time playing against him in Philly so much, he’s a guy that can guard multiple positions defensively and can play multiple positions offensively,” Lee said of Iguodala. “He provides a steadying force for us. He doesn’t always show up in the stat sheet, but he’s a guy who can move the ball, can cut, he’s athletic in transition and does a lot for us in a lot of different areas.”
As a unit, the Warriors seem poised to take a step forward. With the versatile Iguodala manning the perimeter, a team unified behind its head coach and a desire to become great, they are readying for battle.
For Myers, clearly, this was a risk worth taking.
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