Kevin Durant's Injury Reminds Warriors of Andre Iguodala's Real Value

Erik Malinowski@@erikmalGolden State Warriors Lead WriterMarch 31, 2017

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 18:  Andre Iguodala #9 of the Golden State Warriors stretches to save the ball from going out of bounds during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at ORACLE Arena on March 18, 2017 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

With every drive and kick-out for a corner three, with every outlet pass that leads to a layup, with every high-arching buzzer-beater that swishes through nylon, Andre Iguodala makes the Golden State Warriors offseason all the more interesting.

Despite Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant both facing the prospect of free agency, the idea that both will remain with the Warriors is a near certainty.

With Iguodala, the circumstances are far more complicated, but his value to the Warriors has never been higher. Since Durant went down with a sprained MCL a month ago, Iguodala has delivered more minutes and higher offensive efficiency across the board, and his defense alone makes him a top-20 player in the NBA over the past month. 

Against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday, as Golden State went down by 22 points in the first quarter, it was Iguodala's presence that, in the words of head coach Steve Kerr, "settled us down." His looping jumper as the first-quarter horn sounded cut the Spurs' lead to a more manageable 16.

In the end, the Warriors won 110-98 to extend their win streak to nine, a run that gets another test Friday when the Houston Rockets return to Oracle Arena.

Durant still isn't expected back for at least another seven to 10 days, which means Iguodala needs to maintain this stretch of play almost until the playoffs start. But that's when the rotations tighten up, and you'd see Iguodala's minutes shoot up anyway.

In other words, Iguodala is putting out playoff-level production right now for a team in need of such a boost. Along with his minutes being up, so is his field-goal percentage on both twos and threes. Meanwhile, his turnovers are down.

Pre-Durant injury5725.749.335.46.40.8
Post-Durant injury1429.359.640.011.30.7

Iguodala's potential return for 2017-18 and beyond starts, fittingly enough, with Durant. He will undoubtedly exercise his opt-out clause this summer, and that would mean two choices: 

  1. Durant signs a max contract, meaning he would make $35.7 million, money that would count against Golden State's salary-cap space.
  2. Durant re-signs using his non-Bird rights and gets paid $31.8 million. That would allow the Warriors the kind of cap flexibility to sign any of their incumbent free agents.

The latter option would likely mean new contracts for both Iguodala and backup point guard Shaun Livingston at rates commensurate with their experience. If given the chance, Golden State would retain both players without hesitation. (The Athletic's Danny Leroux wrote an excellent explainer on all this when the new CBA was ratified in February.)

PORTLAND, OR - JANAURY 29: Kevin Durant #35 and Andre Iguodala #9 of the Golden State Warriors high five each other during the game against the Portland Trail Blazers on January 29 ,2017 at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly
Cameron Browne/Getty Images

But if Durant doesn't take what would amount to a $4 million haircut next season—as is his right—the Warriors would not only have to choose between Iguodala and Livingston, but they also would be severely hamstrung as to how much they could offer either player. They would also be hampered in lower-level signings.

How much of a pay cut would Iguodala be willing to take? That's where it gets tricky.

Iguodala turned 33 in January. This is his 13th season in the league. There's a lot of tread on his tires—he even once led the league in minutes played—and this is his last chance at the kind of payday that makes entering free agency so lucrative.

But Iguodala, as much as Curry or any other Warrior, seems to relish living and working in the Bay Area. In the summer of 2013, Iguodala implored his then-agent, current Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, to allow GM Bob Myers more time to free up cap space so he could sign with the Warriors.

When Kerr arrived a year later, one of his major decisions in training camp was to sit Iguodala down and tell his starting small forward—one Arizona Wildcat to another—that it was in the best interest of the team (and the development of a young Harrison Barnes) that he take his talents to the second unit. He had three years and $36 million left on his deal.

Iguodala didn't raise a stink. For his efforts and attitude, he instantly became one of the most lethal sixth men in the NBA. Eight months after the heart-to-heart with Kerr, Iguodala was named Finals MVP, his smothering defense on LeBron James a crucial reason why the Warriors won their first championship in 40 years.

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Kevin Durant #35 and Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors joke with Andre Iguodala #9 while he wears a virtual reality viewer during the Golden State Warriors Media Day at the Warriors Practice Facility on September
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Now, after four years by the Bay, Iguodala's roots run deep. He's immersed in the Silicon Valley venture-capital scene and has become an entrepreneur and early-stage investor in everything from sleep technology companies to Derek Jeter's website, The Players' Tribune. If Iguodala knows what he's doing, he's set to make far more money from his investments after his career is over than from any free-agent contract he signs now.

The Warriors hope that's the reality, because Iguodala's theoretical ceiling for a new contract may be stretching higher with every win he helps facilitate. Golden State execs have long recognized and appreciated his value and importance to the team, even without the gaudy numbers.

When the Warriors hosted Oklahoma City in November, amid all the hype of Durant's facing off against Russell Westbrook, it was Iguodala who scored just three points in 25 minutes of action but posted a game-high point differential of plus-34. It was a quintessential Iguodala box-score showing.

But now that Iguodala is putting up the kind of stats that should warrant legit consideration for a Sixth Man of the Year Award, Golden State's hand may be forced this offseason.

Whatever Iguodala (and, by extension, Durant) decides this June is a matter for then, but don't think Warriors brass isn't thinking about all of this right now.

Warriors Insider's Notebook

Home Cookin'

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 26: Andre Iguodala #9 of the Golden State Warriors goes to the basket against the Memphis Grizzlies on March 26, 2017 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and
Noah Graham/Getty Images

With just seven games to go in the regular season, the Warriors will barely be leaving the Bay Area and have set themselves up to gather momentum heading into the playoffs.

Sitting on a nine-game winning streak, they host the Rockets—who previously ended a 12-game winning streak for the Dubs back in December with a double-overtime victory—on Friday and then the Washington Wizards on Sunday.

After that, the schedule gets easier, with three of four home games against non-playoff teams (Minnesota, New Orleans, Lakers) and the one road game against the dismal Phoenix Suns.

The Utah Jazz, coming to Oracle for the penultimate game of the season, figure to be the only test in the final five games. And by then, both teams will likely have locked up their postseason seeding, so there could be multiple players resting within each roster...

Return of KD?

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 29: Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors dunks before the game against the San Antonio Spurs on March 29, 2017 at AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading
Noah Graham/Getty Images

...Except that Utah game, on a Monday at home, with the playoffs set to kick off that Saturday, would serve as a perfect moment for Durant to make his return.

Durant has been out since spraining his MCL against Washington on Feb. 28. Since then, the Warriors are 11-4.

The Warriors gave an update Wednesday on Durant's condition, saying there had been no setbacks and that he'd be re-evaluated in seven to 10 days.

That would put a bull's-eye for a potential return April 8, a Saturday game against New Orleans.

But if you subscribe to the idea that Durant only needs one or two games to get his rhythm back, the more logical way to proceed would be to wait until that Monday against Utah and play him 20-25 minutes, then up that to 25-30 minutes in the season finale against the Lakers.

The Warriors will then have two full rest days until the playoffs start. By that point, Golden State's training staff will know what kind of workload Durant can handle in the first round against (in all likelihood) the Portland Trail Blazers.

Erik Malinowski is the Golden State Warriors lead writer for B/R. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. You can follow him on Twitter: @erikmal. All stats via NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.