July 8, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Team USA forward Andre Iguodala during practice at the UNLV Mendenhall Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
Andre Iguodala has spent his entire career miscast as a star player. Over the next two weeks, though, we'll see him play the role on Team USA that he was always meant to play.
There are so many reasons to be excited about watching Team USA go for the gold medal at the 2012 Olympics in London. In my mind, though, one small, but subtle reason needs to be set aside:
We finally get to see Andre Iguodala in his element.
Nothing against the Philadelphia 76ers, who seem to be a reasonable organization, but I think even 76ers fans agree that Iguodala has been miscast as the team's top offensive option for years. Iguodala's the perfect fill-in guy, really, capable of addressing so many needs beyond scoring. He's an elite playmaker for his position, he moves without the ball and he defends multiple positions. He's become a good enough spot-up shooter to mask that weakness.
In international ball, he can play on the wing or he can do a little bit inside. He can be called upon to facilitate ball movement when Team USA starts to get stagnant. In short, he's the kind of player the team never valued in 2002 and 2004, when Team USA hit its lowest point internationally.
Iguodala's talents call for this exact kind of role. And yet, due mostly to circumstance, he's never been able to fill it in the NBA.
It wasn't supposed to be that way, of course. When Iguodala was picked with the ninth selection in the 2004 NBA Draft, he was coming to a team with an established star in Allen Iverson. Iverson wasn't at his peak then, but the expectation was that the 76ers' year in the lottery was temporary, caused by an injury to Iverson and bad coaching by Randy Ayers. Iguodala was going to slot in perfectly as the Swiss Army Knife, allowing Iverson to be Iverson. But the vision was never fully realized because Iverson's supporting cast, namely the broken-down Chris Webber that arrived in 2005, was never up to par. Iverson soon demanded a trade, Webber was exiled thereafter, and suddenly, it was Iguodala's team.
The man supposed to be the super-role player was now its franchise player.
Now, in a perfect world, the 76ers would bottom out under Iguodala's watch, get a high draft pick and find a superstar to push Iguodala back into the role he was meant to play. The opportunity was there, with two sure-fire superstars in Greg Oden and Kevin Durant at the top of the 2007 draft class. Instead, led by Iguodala and Iverson's replacement, Andre Miller, the 76ers somehow finished 30-28 after the Iverson trade, including a 17-9 spurt down the stretch. All that was good enough to get them ... a 35-47 record, the 12th pick in the draft and Thaddeus Young. Young's become a fine player, but he's not Durant.
Since then, the 76ers have been decent, but not spectacular. They've generally been a playoff team, but never a serious contender for anything significant. In the process, they've propped Iguodala up as the franchise player, giving him a big salary and telling him to be something he's not. The results of him occupying the big scoring role that he's had to fill given his team's mediocre supporting cast have been mixed at best. Criticism has rained down on him, with people picking apart his faults rather than appreciating his strengths.
This probably was unavoidable, to be fair. Thirty years ago, Iguodala probably would have found his way to the Lakers, taking passes from Magic Johnson, running the wing and winning titles as a super Jamaal Wilkes-type. Today, though, there are too many teams and too many high-salaried complementary players to spread them all around the league. Even if Iguodala gets dealt away from the 76ers this summer, it's relatively likely that he'll merely go to a similarly-constructed squad that will miscast him all the same.
That means that Team USA is our only real chance to watch Iguodala in his ideal role. Finally, he'll be appreciated for his unique strengths instead of denigrated for his weaknesses. He will be the much-needed role player on a great team instead of being the incomplete star player on a mediocre team. He can be the unsung hero that the coach loves instead of the limited star that the coach hates.
Enjoy him over the next two weeks while you can, because this is a unique opportunity for you, the basketball fan, to imagine Iguodala as he was meant to be.