Oakland — Andre Iguodala didn't mince words when asked in April what a 2015 NBA title would mean to him:
“If we win a championship, that will save me from kicking Steve Kerr's ass for making me come off the bench,” he told ESPN.
Words of jest, no doubt. Still, no one would blame Iguodala if the thought had bubbled up seven months ago. His achievements — All-Star, All-NBA First Team Defense, Gold Medal Olympian — are many. His games played over his first 10 years — 758, all as a starter — were a testament to his durability. It's not every day players of such caliber are asked by a rookie coach to stomach a reserve role.
But endure he did, and then some. After all, every championship team needs sacrificing salvos, and Iguodala's diverse skillset gives Kerr the requisite reserve playmaking and multi-faceted defending, all rolled into one renaissance man.
So much so that Iguodala's now-legendary harassment of MVP runnerup James Harden, in a Western Conference-clinching Game 5 victory, garnered the highest praise from his coach. “Andre is as smart a defensive player as I've ever seen,” Kerr said. “He reminds me a lot of Scottie Pippen. I thought Andre's defense on James was absolutely brilliant, and really the key to the whole game.”
Meanwhile, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson splash nets. Andrew Bogut does the dirty work. Draymond Green does everything. And recently, Harrison Barnes has been the no-longer unsung clutch-scoring hero.
This postseason, though, Iguodala's impact has often been as far-reaching as each starter, if not always easily defined — and could prove equally crucial in slowing down a fast-paced and shape-shifting Cavs team, featuring LeBron James as the late-game, ball-handling, power-forward maestro.
Over the weekend, James compared Curry to himself, saying neither could player be fully-stopped — though Iguodala didn't necessarily subscribe to that notion.
“It's personal opinion,” he said coyly. “We're all humans, I like to think.”
Quiet confidence, to be sure. And with plenty of results to back it up this postseason.
In the series-clinching victory in Memphis, he was quietly instrumental, chipping in seven assists (the entire Warriors' roster outside of Curry combined for 10). And after the Grizzlies charged back into the game by cutting the Golden State lead to 65-64, Iguodala answered the bell immediately with two triples in the final 2:38 of the third quarter, before blocking Jeff Green's three in the waning seconds, to set up Curry's amazing 62-foot dagger.
Memphis coach Dave Joerger talked frequently about having to pick your poison against Golden State's offense, electing at times to leave Iguodala and others free. By shooting 8-of-14 from distance in the final three wins over the Grizzlies, the 6-foot-6 swingman turned that strategy lethal.
In the West finals, the showings were more obvious, including the aerial spectacular: a thunderous tomahawk jam in Game 2 over Dwight Howard that sparked a huge Golden State run, and momentarily turned Curry into a fleet-footed fanboy. Then, he provided a Game 5 encore, this time defensively, putting the clamps on Harden and forcing him into an NBA-playoff record 13 turnovers with only two made field goals.
But despite his confidence, despite the defensive wizardry, despite an offensive role that rotates between timely playmaking and forceful highlight-manufacturing, Iguodala remains thoughtful and balanced.
Sure, he remembers that LeBron is human — but he doesn't carry the raw emotion of say, his teammate Green, who rightfully likened the opportunity of taking down King James to knocking off a boxing champ.
“Nah, nah,” Iguodala said, when asked if he was equally excited to go through LeBron for a championship. “For me, I'm worried about us. Gotta know your opponent, know their tendencies, gotta study, know the percentages. Within the grand scheme of our defense, I feel like if we play the play we should play, we have a great chance.”
Indeed, there's a rational duality about both Iguodala's creative game, even-handed perspective of the sport, and direct personality.
He credits assistant Luke Walton, his teammate at the University of Arizona in 2002 and 2003, for his early basketball schooling, saying, “I learned more from him than probably anyone in my career … how to play the game, pass, how to have a high IQ, be a student of the game.”
But at the same time, he unequivocally adds: “I would never be a coach. I don't have the patience. Not everyone else is [a student of the game], that's why I wouldn't.”
And sure, Iguodala remains an uber-versatile and important defender, capable of guarding everyone from LeBron, to Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith, to even Kyrie Irving or Tristan Thompson in a pinch. So, perhaps he'd want to make an instructional defense video, then?
“Won't do that, either,” Iguodala said. “No one would buy it, no one wants to play defense. I'll do a golf video, I'm gonna be on the Senior Tour.”
Those polo-clad PGA dreams are on hold for the moment, though.
Just like the potential butt-kicking of Kerr. Which, of course, can be put on ice forever with four more victories.