Andre Iguodala’s signing was critical for the Golden State Warriors. He is not the piece they need as much as they need him to not be that piece for anyone else.

By Andrew J. Pridgen

Andre Iguodala will earn almost $50 million in guaranteed money over the next and perhaps final three years of his career. He will be turning 37 by the time this latest contract, signed Saturday night, expires. Most of his contemporaries are now assistant coaches or co-own failing car customization shops. Andre Iguodala is, instead, very rich and getting richer.

The deal itself is for three years and $48 million. These are numbers that are so stratospheric that they’re easy to dismiss. Contextualized, they don’t seem so no-quotes crazy. Iguodala’s is part of a projected $130 million the Warriors will commit to simply keep their championship team together next season. That’s a higher payroll than the Suns, Kings, Pelicans and Nuggets combined—or, the 2008-2012 seasons of the Warriors’ payroll combined. It’s important to note that the team will likely eclipse the number of regular season wins next year as during that quartet of campaigns so perhaps the outlay is justifiable.

Iguodala was brought over to the Warriors after eight seasons scrapping in Philadelphia and one season in Denver, where Golden State became intrigued with what the one-time All-Star could do. He was brought to Oakland during the 2013 off-season and the goals set before him relatively modest: Mentor and toughen up the Warriors’ young duo of shooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, help train his eventual replacement in second-year forward Draymond Green, make the playoffs, win a few games. Create a team convincing enough to sell PSLs to a new, privately financed waterfront stadium in San Francisco.

All boxes checked there, plus Iguodala, who eventually lost his starting job to Green, has one N.B.A. Finals MVP trophy (2015), is still the gold standard when it comes to D’ing up LeBron James or whomever the opposing jersey’s toughest out is and, culturally, he is credited with creating the Warriors’ loose-but-firm atmosphere that has netted a pair of Larry O’Brien trophies.

Music blasts throughout practices, sometimes they run plays, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they play like the All Stars they are, sometimes they joke around and do nothing. Sometimes they get in scuffles. There have been multiple occasions when the Warriors’ stars end up convalescing by themselves or in small groups of twos and threes across the gym from one another. Iguodala, and by proxy his protege Green, are the guys who stand in the middle of the court and yell and scream and cajole till everyone decides to come back together.

…The league’s free agency started Friday. Steph Curry signed a five-year extension worth over $200 million. Shaun Livingston, three years for $24 million. David West will come back for a year and $2.3 million. All told it’s a quarter-billion-dollar weekend with Kevin Durant still waiting for his stack of papers along with Zaza Pachulia, Ian Clark, JaVale McGee, Matt Barnes and James Michael McAdoo.

The N.B.A.’s salary cap for next season is $99 million and the luxury tax threshold is $119 million. After last season, Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert sent the league a check for $54 million to keep his championship team in tact. The Warriors ($14.8 million) joined the Clippers ($19.9 million) and the Oklahoma City Thunder ($14.5 million) as the quartet of teams atop the luxury tax penalty zone. Golden State should eclipse them all with a close to $60 million tab at the end of next season.

It’s a lot to pay for one gaudy gold trophy. Then again, the Warriors knew there is no replacement cog to keep alive the culture Iguodala installed. They also know the N.B.A., more than any other league, is about the pieces you don’t have rather than the ones you do. Iguodala and his camp knew the Warriors didn’t want him back as much as they didn’t want to lose him. That’s why he took meetings with the surging Rockets, who just added Chris Paul to their arsenal and now just need some team chemistry, as well as the always formidable Spurs—can you imagine Kawhi Leonard and Iguodala switching off on KD and Steph during the playoffs? Warriors owner Joe Lacob and his front office didn’t want to.

Golden State ostensibly outbid themselves, ratcheting up their offer from the two-year $30 million range to three years and $45. Iguodala texted them one more time that the Houston meeting went “really well” and they bumped it up to $48.

Andrew J. Pridgen helps run sister site Goner Party and is the author of the novella “Burgundy Upholstery Sky”. His first full-length novel will be released in late-2017.

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