NEW YORK -- It’s been a season filled with adjustments for the 76ers. Just when they were preparing to adjust to life with a superstar player as the focus of the team, the plan changed.
Instead, the Sixers have spent the 2012-13 season adjusting to life without their superstar, Andrew Bynum.
The season has been one of adjustments for a bunch of the players involved in the four-team trade that brought Bynum to Philadelphia. In Los Angeles, Dwight Howard has seen his every turn treated as part of the daily soap opera that is the Lakers. Even the tiniest minutia of Howard’s relationship with new teammate Kobe Bryant is fodder for public debate. It’s gotten to the point that even Howard’s father is approached by reporters to weigh in on what’s going on with his son and the Lakers.
For Andre Iguodala, the longtime Sixer and 2011-12 All-Star who was the key piece in the acquisition of Bynum, it’s been a season of adjustments, too. However, the difference in Iguodala’s case is that all of the adjustments he’s had to make have been basketball-related.
“That’s been the story of the season so far,” Iguodala said before Wednesday night’s matchup between the Nuggets and Nets at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. “I’ve had to adjust to my new teammates and adjust to the attitude and things like that. It’s all been good though because we’ve been winning ball games and that makes everything easier.”
Because there are just a dozen or so players in the locker room for every game, personnel changes can have a major impact on a team. And given how the last few months have been a whirlwind for Iguodala, the adjustment period may last a bit longer than it would for other players. Plus, Iguodala, who sat out of Wednesday’s game with a stiff neck, has always been different from the typical pro athlete. Rarely is a question given a simple yes or no answer because to Iguodala, things are much more complicated than yes or no. There are shades of grey in even the simplest answer.
That’s the same way for when he plays, too.
“He’s a very cerebral player,” Nuggets head coach George Karl said. “He probably thinks too much and he probably worries too much.”
It’s never easy …
Could Iguodala ever lighten up? Is it too much to ask? Once, shortly after the Heat eliminated the Sixers during the 2010-11 playoffs, Iguodala was asked, point blank, if he wanted to play for the Sixers the following season. Instead of saying, “yes” or “no,” Iguodala gave a rather McNabbian response:
“It’s always been a dream of mine to play ball for one team. This has been a great ride so far. I’m really looking forward to the summer, letting my body recuperate. I want to get back to 100 percent. I’m looking forward to next year being my best year in the league.
“I always wanted to be in one place, be comfortable in one spot. I still feel the same way, being able to put a stamp on not only my career, but the Philadelphia 76ers record book. I want to keep climbing the charts with some of the greatest basketball players ever. Just for my name to be brought up as having some of the most steals in team history is something I always thought about. I want to continue to climb the charts and take this team to the next level.”
Of course, Iguodala did return to the Sixers in 2011-12 and that’s when the whirlwind began. Last year at this stage of the season he was headed to Orlando for his first All-Star Game. This year, even though some of his statistics are more impressive, Iguodala is going to the All-Star Game to participate in the NBPA annual meeting in his role as the Nuggets’ player representative.
Then again, maybe it’s fitting that such a “cerebral player” and worrywart would be traded hours before the biggest basketball game of his life at the tail end of his most successful season.
First came the All-Star Game and then, a couple of months later, Iguodala led the No. 8-seeded Sixers to an upset victory over the top-seeded Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. It was Iguodala’s two foul shots with 2.2 seconds left in Game 6 that gave the series its dramatic crescendo.
That led to a nearly as dramatic seven-game series in the Eastern semifinals in which Iguodala’s defense nearly helped the Sixers to another upset. The Sixers’ unlikely playoff run was followed by a berth on the U.S. Olympic team and a gold medal in the games in London.
But in the middle of playing for the gold for the red, white and blue, during warmups before the semifinals game, Iguodala was told that he had been traded.
Fitting in with Denver
Since then, Iguodala has tried to relax and to fit in. Playing for the Denver Nuggets, apparently, is a bit different than playing for the Philadelphia 76ers. In Denver, Iguodala said, he’s been trying to teach himself to be calm and to relax and even to let his guard down sometimes.
After eight years of playing in Philadelphia, relaxing just might be Iguodala’s biggest adjustment.
“It’s different. You catch yourself being too guarded at times, especially when dealing with the media when you’re always on guard,” Iguodala said. “But it’s a lot friendlier [in Denver] than it was in Philly. Sometimes I have to catch myself and say, ‘Just have fun with it.’ I don’t have to be so defensive all the time. Then with the fans, it’s different. In Philly they are a lot more passionate and up in your face and in Denver they’re calm and collected and they’re enjoying themselves.”
Iguodala is enjoying the basketball, too. At 33-21, the Nuggets have won nine out of their last 12 and 15 out of their last 20 games after Wednesday night’s first-half finale at the Barclays Center against the Nets. With Karl’s uptempo offense, the Nuggets have scored at least 97 points in 21 straight games and have the third-best scoring offense in the NBA, averaging 105 points per game.
Part of that has to do with the Nuggets’ running style and their ability to hit the offensive glass. Headed into Wednesday’s game, the Nuggets led the NBA with an average of nearly 14 offensive rebounds per game.
But mostly the Nuggets’ success has to do with what Iguodala brings to the team. Though they surrender 101-plus points per game, the Nuggets’ offense is fueled by their defense. They lead the NBA in rebounding, which is the perfect way to start a fast break, and also are second in steals, third in blocks and second in creating turnovers.
Karl says his team wouldn’t be nearly as good without Iguodala.
“We brought him in to bolster up our defense and I think he’s turned us into a good defensive team -- not a great defensive team,” Karl said. “It’s a luxury to have a guy like [Iguodala] that you can put on any player from a two, a three or a four, and feel pretty confident that you don’t have to help all the time.”
Then again, the Nuggets’ style of play has been another adjustment for Iguodala to get used to, too. In Philadelphia, the offense usually flowed through Iguodala. The Sixers ran when they could, otherwise they slowed things down and tried to win the battle in the halfcourt.
But in Denver the plan is to attack and attack and when the Nuggets finish with that, they want to attack some more.
“It’s different than the East where it was more … controlled,” Iguodala said, choosing his words carefully. “It’s not in a bad way. That style was good for me, so now I have to adjust to it. It’s just two different styles and I’m getting used to it -- I’m picking it up.”
Karl is pretty sure that Iguodala will be instrumental for the Nuggets as the season progresses. By the time the playoffs roll around, that adjustment period should be complete.
“I’m confident and satisfied with what we’ve gotten out of him and I’m excited about what he’ll give us in the second half,” Karl said.
In the meantime, Iguodala is doing his best to fit in. The offense doesn’t flow through him in Karl’s no-stars credo. In fact, Karl’s style might just be the perfect fit for Iguodala. Still, it just might take some time to get used to.
“Everything is a tough adjustment in its own little way,” Iguodala said. “With my teammates it’s been good because I have a good relationship with everyone here. The situation was a little better in Philly because I had been there for seven or eight years and I could control the environment. Guys knew certain things and I didn’t have to tell them things twice. That’s the only real thing that’s different here, so you have to build that. It’s not going to happen over night.”
No, nothing ever comes easy for Iguodala. It just looks that way. But in a season of big adjustments for a lot of teams, it’s Iguodala that might be headed in the best direction.