A VOTE TO KEEP AI9

He’s certainly not a mega-star like Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Dwyane Wade or even Kevin Durant and you could make a strong argument that he has failed to take that next step to all-star status, but heading into the future I believe Andre Iguodala is a key component for the Philadelphia 76ers and thus Ed Stefanski should not trade the Sixers wingman.

After giving him a contract extension at a total of $80 million over six years, the Sixers organization expected Iguodala to elevate his level of play and develop into elite player in the League.  To be honest it has not happened.

Of course Iguodala has not had much help either.  For starters, AI9 has played under four head coaches in the last six years – not exactly the stability a young player needs to grow and develop.  But hopefully Doug Collins brings an end to that stretch.

Additionally, the franchise has never been able to find him a right hand man.  The front office’s latest attempt was Elton Brand, who was thought to be the complimentary star to Iguodala’s inevitable superstar.  Upon his signing, the Sixers envisioned Brand as an interior scorer that would change opposing defensive schemes and thus free up Iguodala.  Unfortunately at this time, Brand is not the same player who commanded nightly double-teams before rupturing his Achilles tendon and has turned out to be one of the worst free agent signings in modern NBA history.

Still the coaching carousel and the Brand debacle only make up half of Iguodala’s lack of growth.  He has failed to significantly improve many parts of his game since his contract extension.  In fact, many feel as though he has regressed over the last two seasons.  

His three point shooting, which was a weakness since college, is still abysmal for a shooting guard or small forward.  Since inking his deal two years ago, Igoudala has shot 30.7 [08-09] and 31 [09-10] percent from downtown, which is actually below his career average of 32.1.

Besides his horrendous three-point shooting, Iguodala’s scoring has suffered as well. In the season leading up to his extension [the 2007-08 season], he averaged 19.9 points a game, his career high. Since his breakout year, Iguodala’s point production has dropped to only 17.1 points per game this past season.

One of the main reasons that his point total has not increased like the Sixers anticipated is due to the fact his field goal and free throw percentage have been stagnant.  In four of his first six seasons, Iguodala shot below 48 percent from the field.  Iguodala did improve his field goal percentage to 47.3 percent in 08-09 [from 45.6 in 07-08, but this past season his shot selection was terrible.  Ultimately, it took a toll on his shooting percentage as it dropped by three points to 44.3 percent, not shocking that this happens to be his lowest percentage of his entire career.

However, it is not just his field goal percentage that has been below par.  His free throw attempts and percentages are not what they should be for a guy of his talent and athleticism.   During the three-year span before the 09-10 campaign, Iguodala attacked the basket, drew fouls and got to the line an average of 6.63 times a game. Last year under Eddie Jordan, Iguodala seemed to disappear for long stretches, lose his focus and even his aggressiveness to go up strong with the ball.  He found himself on the charity stripe only 5.3 times per game.  Drawing fouls is only half of the issue; Iguodala has only shot 80 percent or better from the charity stripe once in his six-year career.  The other five seasons, he has shot under 76 percent, shooting a dreadful 73.3 percent this season.  Thus, his poor free throw shooting gets magnified even more since he shot less attempts than he has been averaging in the previous three years.

Even with all those negatives and four years at $54 million remaining on his contract, the Sixers need to keep AI9 if they expect to rebound from their 27-55 record. 

For starters, the NBA is no longer a league where one single player can carry a team on his back to a championship, as Lebron, D-Wade and Kobe [the years before Gasol arrived] have proven in their careers.  A tandem is required not just to be competitive, but in order for the franchise to elevate itself from cellar dwellers to a conference power and eventually the cream of the NBA crop. 

Adding second overall draft pick Evan Turner to lineup should give Iguodala a running mate.  The Sixers will need this potentially dynamic tandem now more than ever with the Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls all upgrading their rosters during this free agency period.

Certainly, Turner and Iguodala have similar deficiencies and many experts believe the two swingmen need the ball in their hands too much to co-exist, but having two young players with such promise and high ceilings is a luxury.  Not many teams in the League have two players that can score, distribute and handle the basketball at a high-level from three different positions. 

Will there be growing pains and struggles with both Iguodala and Turner on the court at the same time?  Of course there will be a learning curve at first since each need time to adjust to the other’s style.  However, in the long run the two might be better players for it and push the Sixers closer to an NBA title as well.  Furthermore, how many times over the years have analysts been wrong on issues such as teammates co-existing on the court?  Remember countless experts declared that the Boston Celtics would never be able to win trying to mesh the egos of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce all wanting to be “the guy.”  Needless to say the Celtics with their two NBA Finals appearances and one championship ring have proven those doubters wrong.

Another rationale for keeping Iguodala in the city of Brotherly Love is the hiring of head coach Doug Collins.  Since entering the League Iguodala has played under the following head coaches — Jim O’Brien, Maurice Cheeks, Tony DiLeo and Eddie Jordan.  Not one of them has the prowess or experience of Collins.  Collins is an experienced tactician who understands how to deal with different egos / personalities and has a knack for pushing the right buttons with young players on the cusp of stardom.  Do not be surprised if under Collins’ coaching style that Iguodala makes huge strides on offense and defense.  With Iguodala’s speed, wingspan and athleticism, Collins can help transform his starting small forward into one of the more feared two way players in the NBA.

Still another reason to keep Iguodala on the Sixers for the foreseeable future is that he has never been surrounded with such talented teammates.  Jrue Holiday is a rising star in this League.  Evan Turner is a great addition.  Thaddeus Young will most likely return to his outstanding sophomore season form after spending a lost year under Eddie Jordan.  Louis Williams is a solid sixth man and Elton Brand can still be a very solid contributor.  Lastly, I expect Jason Kapono, Spencer Hawes and Jodie Meeks to have solid years for the Sixers.  This team is deeper then any other Sixers squad AI9 has played on and that will help his game develop.    

Lastly and probably most important reason not to get rid of the 26-year-old is due to diminishing returns.  Coming off a down year is not the time to trade a player of Iguodala’s skill set because the team will not receive sufficient compensation.  While fans like to bash or take out their frustration on Iguodala, he is not just a salary dump to clear cap room especially with the free agent class being very weak next year [assuming Carmelo Anthony agrees on the three-year extension with the Nuggets]. In order to trade him, general manager Ed Stefanski and the franchise must get players who can make a difference.

One rumor that has surfaced via ESPN’s Ric Bucher was dealing him to the Los Angeles Clippers. A player the 76ers would probably ask for in return is center Chris Kaman. The 28-year-old center would be a nice acquisition, but there are injury concerns with him. In his seven-year career, Kaman has only played a full 82 game slate once [his rookie year] and has only played in 70 games or more just four times. Without doubt Kaman would give the Sixers the interior scoring, rebounds and the shot blocker [18.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 2009-10] that the squad currently lacks, but for how many games a year will he be that guy? Plus, if the Sixers wanted to acquire a center they’d probably want to get one without giving up an intricate part of the team. Some players that fit this description would be Marcus Camby, Andray Blatche or Troy Murphy; all who have been mentioned in trade talks.

Despite Iguodala’s flaws, there are more pros than cons for him staying in Philadelphia. If Collins manages to get through to Iguodala and he rededicates himself to the game, the Sixers might just raise their level of play as well. Ultimately, if he refines his skills then this could mean a return to the golden years for 76ers fans and relevancy in the city for a struggling franchise.

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