Return the favor, let Iguodala start

Andre Iguodala holds up the NBA Finals MVP trophy as he rides in a bus during the Warriors' championship parade. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

Be reminded that this is the second time Andre Iguodala has pranked Steve Kerr, which still constitutes, in a workplace context, an employee punking a boss. There was the interview before the playoffs when Iguodala looked into an ESPN camera and said, without evidence of even a wee smile, “If we win a championship, that will save me from kicking Steve Kerr’s ass for making me come off the bench.”

And there was the other night, when Iguodala used his Twitter feed to demand a “trade.” The jollies started when Kerr, attending a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe despite a bad back that was wrenched during Game 5 of the Finals, told reporters that Iguodala will return to his off-the-bench role next season. It hardly was a breaking news bulletin, yet it was a reality dose that interrupted a euphoric summer: Indebted as Kerr and the Warriors are to Iguodala for returning to the starting lineup without drama, saving their championship season and winning the NBA Finals MVP award, that’s all in the past now, bub.

Never mind the guest spot on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” Never mind the award he presented at the ESPYs. The beloved Iguodala is a reserve again.

“I saw him at the postgame party in Cleveland, went up and said, ‘Congrats, MVP, you were incredible, what a job. And you’re going back to the bench next year,’” Kerr said. “And he laughed. And I laughed. Obviously, kind of a joke.”

But not really. Because Iguodala indeed is going back to the bench in October. “We won 67 games with the group that we had. And we’ve got our core back, just about everybody’s back,” Kerr said. “And more than likely, we’ll play it the same way. You never know how things go; we’ll see. But the good thing, is we’re capable of playing a lot of different ways with a lot of different combinations, as we showed throughout the season.”

The story barely had begun to circulate when Iguodala responded.

“Then trade me…” he tweeted.

He paused for a minute, then tweeted again: “Ha! Got eeeeem! Yall know I’m playing #weStillSchampionship.”

And this: “Yall fell for that one!”

And, finally, these classics: “Aight the only way I’ll still come off the bench… 1. I wanna left handed set of golf clubs. 2. Some Cambodian breast milk… And Steve Kerr gotta walk to juniors and get me some cheesecake.”

That’s Junior’s bakery and restaurant, in New York.

Cambodian breast milk is a Dave Chappelle Show thing.

While I appreciate his continuing sense of humor, I was disappointed that he merely was kidding. Because if we’re assessing the situation fairly, Kerr owes it to Iguodala to keep him in the starting lineup. The most obvious reason is that he saved Kerr’s ass, instead of having to kick it, with a seamless Finals transition when he could have caused a ruckus in the national media. But the more human and equitable reason is that Iguodala did Kerr an enormous favor last fall, when he agreed to a reserve role in the prime of a career that has included an Olympic gold medal and All-Star Game selection.

Now, having delivered when Kerr needed to him to rescue the Warriors from a 2-1 Finals hole, Iguodala should have the favor returned in kind.

In the always-inventive, never-dull world of sports, this story is new territory. A player who had started every previous game in his NBA career, 758 times, was told to come off the bench by a first-year coach. Iguodala accepted the role grudgingly, bumped through an inconsistent regular season, then became a vital performer throughout the postseason. When the Warriors needed a spark and a smallball-and-speed lineup in Game 4, Kerr put his head between his legs and told Iguodala that he was starting again. The team’s resident cynic, as Kerr has called him, could have laughed in the coach’s face.

“No cynicism,” Kerr said of his reaction that morning. “He just nodded his head and said, ‘All right, let’s go.’”

That he went on to win MVP, after wearing down LeBron James and repeatedly hitting big shots, is even more reason to keep him as a starter. I mean, what is the obsession with starting Harrison Barnes? Kerr and general manager Bob Myers are eager to make the 23-year-old forward a part of the “Core Four” — with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green — and sign him to an extension before the coming season, but prioritizing Barnes’ development over Iguodala’s history-changing heroics isn’t right. Barnes can come off the bench and energize the cause with his point flurries. Iggy should not be getting the Ziggy, not again.

And for those who wonder why it matters which player is starting, well, it does to a proud, accomplished veteran who had earned a plateau in the league. During the Finals, Kerr pointed out that Iguodala’s actual minutes weren’t altered much as a starter, saying, “His role didn’t really change. I mean, he was playing big minutes against LeBron anyway the first three games. It was the positions around him that changed. But he was on board and he competed like everybody else did.” What was so charming about these Warriors, of course, was how Iguodala and the now-departed David Lee sacrificed their egos and accepted the new roles. But Iguodala did more than remain flexible. He thrived through a potential career crisis.

“You could do the opposite and kind of just tank it just to say that it’s wrong,” he told the Bay Area News Group at one point early last season. Hell, here’s a man who lists this as a personal axiom on his Twitter site: “Same sword they knight you with… They good nite you with…”

Instead, he put down his own sword and made the ultimate team concession.
Which makes it insulting, if not a complete affront, to point him back toward the bench. He jokes on Twitter, but might there be a passive-aggressive hint to it all? Iguodala won’t receive an extra penny for enduring the flip-flop and winning the MVP. His contract, which has two years remaining, won’t be extended. He was honored at the parade, praised by Kimmel, celebrated nationally. And then he’s supposed to sit back down and watch Harrison Barnes until Kerr calls his name.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

The Warriors should not take advantage of Iguodala’s goodwill and selfless spirit. No, they should reward it by leaving him right where he was the last three games in June. I’m pretty sure Kerr will buy the left-handed golf clubs, walk to Junior’s to fetch him cheesecake and even find some Cambodian breast milk.

That’s not nearly enough.

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