If there is a 2011-12 NBA season, it may well be the make-or-break year for Andre Iguodala. That may sound like an extreme statement, but it actually has the ring of truth to it when all of the facts are considered.
If Iguodala remains with the Sixers (a massive "if" at this point), it will likely be his last season in Philadelphia. Each of the past two offseasons have been filled with rumors and speculation about the future of the "other A.I." in Philadelphia. He has been linked to teams across the country, from California to Florida to Memphis and more. Eventually, even the rumor mills get it right. The speculation cannot continue forever—eventually, there must be a decisive end.
This situation will end in either a trade or a very public declaration for the Sixers that Iguodala stays (and in Philadelphia, even those statement don't carry weight. Just ask Mike Richards, Donovan McNabb and Jeff Carter).
The only plausible scenario in which Iguodala remains in Philadelphia must involve a deep playoff run for the 76ers, driven (in large part) by the play of A.I. v2.0. He must put on a stellar performance for the entire basketball world to see—a performance that demonstrates once and for all to the Sixers management that Iguodala cannot be adequately replaced. It must be a performance that establishes Iguodala as the leader of the Sixers, the "guy in the middle" the rest of the team plays to impress. He must prove he has what it takes to be the "big brother" to the team's young guns.
If that does not happen (or the Sixers do not allow it to happen by trading Iguodala before the season begins), all of the pressure will be on Iguodala to deliver for his new team. While Philadelphia fans may not like to admit it, a player with Iguodala's skill set has a great deal of value around the league. He can do it all—he's an elite defender, perhaps the best "pure" point forward in basketball, a solid shooter and scorer and an excellent rebounder for his size.
Accordingly, the value the Sixers will demand for Iguodala will be on the expensive end. More than likely, they will ask for at least one draft pick, an established player with an expiring contract and another piece. In certain cases (the Monta Ellis rumor), a one-for-one swap could be discussed, but it will be for a player with superstar-level talent.
Any team that gives up such a ransom for Iguodala will expect a high return on their investment. The team's fans will demand an even higher rate of return. The analysts on ESPN will likely set "NBA title or bust" expectations for the team. If Iguodala thought he was under the microscope in Philadelphia, he should wait until he's traded for a franchise cornerstone or a pair of talented young players. The expectations will be through the roof.
And all of that boils down to why 2011-12 will be a make-or-break season for Iguodala. If he isn't traded, everyone in Philadelphia will expect him to lead the Sixers on a deep playoff run, to finally blossom into a dominant scorer, to do all of the little things better than he already does—more or less, to be the Sixers' Kobe or Dirk. If he is traded, the fans in his new city will demand he do the same or more. And they'll likely be less patient and far less understanding than Philadelphia fans, especially if the players exchanged for Iguodala are perceived as playing well.
Iguodala is a talented player caught in the middle of an unfortunate situation. Most NBA teams would be thrilled to have him around—who wouldn't want a freakishly athletic, do-everything-well small forward that causes no off-court problems?
But, for better or worse, the Philadelphia 76ers aren't most NBA teams. And so 2011-12 has become the make-or-break year for Andre Iguodala.