To the Faithful Departed: Andre Iguodala

To the Faithful Departed: Andre Iguodala

This week, I'll be saying a proper goodbye to some longtime Sixers
players that won't be suiting up in the Red, White and Blue next season.
On Tuesday, we remembered Elton Brand. On Wednesday, Lou Williams. Today: Andre Iguodala, traded to Denver as part of the deal for Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson.

I
love Andre Iguodala. Always have, always will. He's a smart, talented,
exciting basketball player, who for a long time didn't get nearly the
league-wide respect that he deserved. He was the best guy on the Sixers
for a half-decade, and he got the Sixers to the playoffs in four of
those five years as their unofficial leader. I have an Iguodala jersey
that I wear proudly, even though the '00s Sixers jerseys were some of
the ugliest goddamn jerseys in basketball history. He was a great 76er,
and I will forever remember him as such.

Of course, that doesn't mean that I haven't been calling for him to
be traded for the last two-plus years. After the bitter disappointment
of the '09-'10 season, in which it became clear that 'Dre wasn't ever
going to be the first-option-type scorer that the Sixers wanted him to
be (and that they so badly needed), I concluded that neither Iguodala
nor the Sixers would ever reach their full potential with him at the
helm—a position I still hold today—and I figured it would be better for
both parties if they went their separate ways. (For what it's worth, the
Sixers seemed to agree with me, and he spent most of those two-plus
years on the trading block—though so many opportunities to deal him came
and went that it seemed like he might be on the trading block right
until the second his contract expired.)

Basketball can be a cruel sport when it comes to player evaluation.
As I talked about with Elton, it's a lot harder to be forgiving of
overpaid players in the NBA, because their contracts are always actively
prohibiting you from potentially making up for your lack of production
elsewhere. When Andre Iguodala was given his six-year, $80 million
contract in the summer of 2008, people expected him to be the Sixers'
do-everything kind of player, and that included being their most
skilled, most prolific scorer. When he wasn't able to do that, people
invariably pointed to that $80 million price tag, many of them declaring
his contract a failure as a result.

But here's the thing—unlike Elton Brand, Andre Iguodala wasn't ever
overpaid. In his four years as a Sixer post-contract extension, Andre
Iguodala was the team's best defender, one of the team's best passers,
one of the best rebounders, and easily the most durable player, playing
in every game from 2008-2010 and leading the league in minutes in
'08-'09. And for at least a couple of those years, he was also one of
their best scorers—it's easy to forget now, but he averaged nearly 19 a
game in '08-'09 on very respectable 47.3% shooting. Are you telling me
that that package wasn't worth the average of less than $12.5 mil a year
we paid him the last four seasons?

This is the other reason that basketball player evaluation can be
unfair. Let's say the Phillies had themselves a new 25-year-old center
fielder. He's a regular .300-.320 hitter who takes enough walks for a
regular OBP in the low .400s, he steals about 40-50 bases a year, he
always hustles and rarely misses a game, and he's one of the best
defensive center fielders in the game, as measured by both advanced
metrics and by highlight plays on MLB tonight. The only missing facet of
his game is that he doesn't have much of a power stroke—he shows
occasional flashes, but he generally only hits about 10-15 homers a
year.

If the Phillies signed him to a six-year, $80-million contract, and
he maintained all his previous skills but never hit more than 20 home
runs in a season, would you consider his contract a bust? Of course
not—you'd recognize that only a handful of players in a generation have
that set of skills AND can also hit for power, you'd be thrilled that
the Phils had themselves an ideal lead-off man and reliable
center-fielder, and you'd hope that they could get some other guys to
help drive him in a little further down the lineup. Even if they never
found those RBI guys, you wouldn't begrudge him for not developing that
power stroke—he does more than enough to justify that contract already,
and it's not his fault that management never found the guys to
complement him.

But because Iguodala's large contract was one of the reasons—though
not the biggest reason—that the Sixers were unable to go find themselves
that #1 scorer once it became clear that he wasn't going to be the guy,
he always took an unreasonable amount of criticism. Even as he
demonstrated day-in and day-out that he was the Sixers' best all-around
player, he would always have to answer for his lack of
scoring—especially in late-game situations, where he was regularly given
the ball, and very rarely came through with big buckets in big moments.
'Dre wasn't meant to be a closer, but without an obvious alternative,
basketball logic dictates that the ball should go to the team's best
player—which was Iguodala, but just not for those reasons.

It was tough to watch a lot of the time, especially because there was a moment—however brief—where it really seemed like 'Dre could
be that guy. In the team's first-round series against Orlando in 2009,
Iguodala's first season post-extension, the dude was brilliant,
averaging 21.5 points on 45% shooting (39% from deep), along with over
six rebounds and over six assists a game. And in the team's two Ws in
that series, he hit some absolutely huge shots, including a game-winning
jumper over Hedo Turkoglu's outstretched paw in Game One that ranks
only behind Sweet Lou's Miami-beater for my favorite Sixers shot of the
post-Iverson era. After struggling mightily against the Pistons the
playoffs before—just 13.2 points a game on miserable 33% shooting—it
seemed like 'Dre was about to make The Leap to an elite offensive, as
well as defensive player.

Needless to say, it didn't happen. 'Dre's scoring average and
field-goal percentage dropped the next season, and his late-game scoring
became particularly problematic. It seemed he had used up all his
clutchness in that Magic series, since he seemed physically unable to
hit a game-winning shot in the seasons that followed. Unfortunately for
'Dre, nobody else on the team stepped up to fill the closer role either,
so it kept defaulting to him, and he kept floundering. (Why NBA coaches
always insist that there be one guy playing iso ball at the end of
games, rather than running an actual play, remains beyond me, but Doug
Collins certainly wasn't going to be the guy to break that mold, and
Iguodala was the unfortunate victim of that basketball tradition.)

In the meantime, an odd thing happened—Iguodala's free-throw
shooting started to plummet. From '07-'10 he was a decent free-throw
shooter, converting at a clip in the low-mid 70s—not exactly Steve Nash,
but acceptable for a swingman. In 2010-'11, though, that slipped to
69%, and the next season, it fell all the way to 62%, unforgivably low
for a shooter. Of all the frustrating things about Andre Iguodala on
offense, this became the most irritating, and by the end of his tenure
as a Sixer, you just assumed that at best he was going to split his free
throws at the line, and just hoped he would at least hit the one.

That's what made Iguodala's ultimate moment of Sixers redemption, in
Game Six of the team's first-round series against the Bulls, so totally
perfect When he was fouled by Omer Asik in the final seconds of the
game, and went to the line with the Sixers down one and the chance to
(theoretically) make two and put them in the second round of the
playoffs, the possibility of him actually doing so seemed like maybe the
eight-most-likely outcome of that situation. Like always, I just hoped
he would make one, and force an overtime at home that we could maybe (maybe)
pull out. When he actually did make both, and then later acted like it
was no big deal and making clutch free throws was easy...I was too busy
laughing at the irony of the situation to even care that the team had
won their first post-season series in seven years. 

Of course, if any Sixers fans dared to dream that those FTs
represented some kind of turn-the-corner moment for Andre Iguodala, and
not some extremely well-timed fluke, they were brought back to reality
by the team's second-round series against Boston, in which 'Dre bricked
free throws with reckless abandon. He went a ridiculous 18-37 from the
line in that series, for a 49% rate even Shaq would be a little bit
humbled by, which included momentum swinging 0-2s in each of the team
final two losses. For better or worse—mostly better, but occasionally
worse—'Dre still was who he was.

And so, for the third straight off-season, 'Dre was rumored to be on
the trade market. But as the draft came and went, and then the team
made a host of off-season moves that appeared to settle their roster,
and Iguodala was still on the team, it looked inevitable that he would
once again start (and likely finish) the season as a Sixer. When I first
heard the rumor of the deal that would essentially trade Andre for
Andrew Bynum, I gave it about a 5% chance of actually happening. By that
point, all I really wanted for 'Dre was cap relief and a draft pick,
the idea of getting a possible franchise player for him was downright
inconceivable. The fact that we actually did get that kind of
return...well, it's a hell of a parting gift from a guy we didn't always
treat so well in Philadelphia.

One final note on 'Dre's tenure in Philadelphia: The team never got
that #1 scorer for 'Dre to play off of, but it's not like they didn't
have chances because of his prohibitively expensive contract. In fact,
they had two very legitimate shots at it—first in the same '08
off-season in which they extended 'Dre, when they still had max-type
money they were willing to spend on a big-time free agent, and then in
the 2010 draft, when they lucked into the #2 pick despite only having
the sixth-worst record. If they had landed the elite scorer they were
hoping to get either of those times around, then 'Dre could have settled
into the complementary role he was much better suited for, and who
knows—he might've been taken off the trade market, and could still be on
the team today.

Unfortunately for Iguodala, the team whiffed both times. The first
time around, they gave their big money to Elton Brand, who eventually
turned into a reliable offensive presence and veteran team leader, but
spent most of his first two years in Philly injured and/or ineffective,
and never lived up to his contract or fan expectation. And then in '10,
they took Evan Turner with the #2 pick, who struggled out of the
gate—and played the same position as Iguodala anyway, so even if he did
(or does) live up to his potential, it would probably spell doom for
'Dre on the Sixers just the same. Ultimately, it wasn't that Iguodala
failed the Sixers, it was that the Sixers failed Iguodala, by pushing
him into situations he wasn't equipped to handle and failing to surround
him with the players to best play off his considerable skill set.

It would've been nice to see Iguodala end up on a team like the
Lakers, an established group where the top scorers are already in place
and 'Dre can just focus on defense, passing and mop-up work, as he did
on Team USA in both the '10 World Championships and this summer's
Olympics. But it might be even more fun to see him on a team like the
Nuggets, which lacks that #1 guy but has a bunch of guys as skilled,
athletic and up-tempo as 'Dre—as well as his old running mate Andre
Miller, who should be grateful to have his like-named ex-teammate to
throw alley-oops to again.

Whether or not the Nuggets team ends up a contender, we hope 'Dre
enjoys playing somewhere where the weight of his contract and
performance expectation has finally be lifted, and he can just be a
great basketball player that helps you win ballgames. And hopefully in
retrospect, Sixers fans can recognize that that was always what Andre
Iguodala did for us, even when he was bricking free throws and clanging
fourth-quarter jumpers. He was miscast, but not overpaid or overrated.
And he will be missed.

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies are still looking for the real Aaron Nola, but they may have found a useful bat Thursday night.

Aaron Altherr had the kind of season debut he’d dreamed about for the four months he was on the disabled list as he helped the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field (see Instant Replay).

Altherr was one of three Phillies to hit home runs on a night when the offense awakened after generating just one run the previous two days in Miami. Altherr, who came off the disabled list earlier in the day after missing four months with a wrist injury that required surgery (see story), drove a two-run homer to left in the fifth inning. Earlier in the game, Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph had back-to-back homers to headline a five-run first inning.

Franco leads the team with 19 homers and Joseph, hitting .375 with six homers in his last 17 games, has 14 in just 57 games with the club.

Altherr, who batted fifth behind Franco and Joseph, also had two hard singles in the game.

“He had a really good night in his debut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He provided a spark for us. He added to the offense. So I'm happy for that. It's good to get a win. We scored some runs, finally.”

Altherr was projected to be a starter in the Phillies’ opening day outfield until he suffered the wrist injury in spring training. He spent the last four months in Clearwater, rehabbing and, well, dreaming of a night like this.

“Definitely, especially sitting around thinking about how that first game's going to be being back,” he said. “For it to be like this, it was definitely special and I have to thank the Lord above for getting me back here as fast as He could.

“I was hoping to get a home run in the first game, but I definitely wasn't expecting it. Just hopeful. To have it happen like that was definitely awesome.

“It definitely surprised me a little bit because I hadn't really been driving the ball like I had wanted to down in my rehab stints. I'm just glad to know I've got [the power] in there somewhere.”

The Phillies hit all three of their home runs and scored all their runs against Atlanta right-hander Matt Wisler. He received a ticket to Triple A after the game.

The Phillies batted around against Wisler and scored five runs in the first inning. That was a welcome cushion for Nola, who desperately needed a win after failing to get one in his previous seven starts. The right-hander did manage to earn his first win since June 5, but it wasn’t exactly pretty. He lasted just five innings and threw a whopping 95 pitches as he continued to experience command issues that have been plaguing him in recent weeks.

Nola gave up eight hits and three runs. He walked three and hit a batter. That’s not Aaron Nola’s game. At least it wasn’t in his first 12 starts this season. He recorded a 2.65 ERA over that span and walked just 15 while striking out 85. He has walked 14 in his last eight starts.

“He's not the same guy,” Mackanin said. “He's just struggling with command once again. He's not dotting his fastball like he normally does. His curveball is erratic. He needs to get back on track.

“Sometimes it's harder to pitch when you have a big lead. You know you don't want to blow it. That can affect a pitcher as well. You have to have that mental toughness either way, whether it's a one-run game or an 8-0 game. You don't want to pitch poorly. There's a tendency, well, you have a five-run lead, should I throw more fastballs and challenge? But it was good to see he got a win. I'm happy for that. That should help him. He just needs to get to where he was. He's not there yet.”

Nola described his outing as “fairly OK,” which was probably right on. He got the win, but overall was not sharp. He allowed three runs in the fifth inning.

“I ran into some jams there,” he said. “I left some balls over the plate for them to hit. They took them the other way. The plan was to try to hit the outside part of the plate and they took it away.

“I feel like I have the command for the most part, but there’s some areas I still need to get better at and work to get better at.”

The Phillies used four relievers to close out the game. Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris pitched well. David Hernandez and Jeanmar Gomez did not. Gomez allowed three base runners and a run, but still managed to get the save. Hernandez allowed a hit and a pair of two-out walks before giving up an RBI double. A number of scouts from teams looking for bullpen help were on hand. Hernandez and Gomez probably did not help their trade value. Four days before the deadline, starter Jeremy Hellickson is still the Phillie most likely to be dealt.

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

CHICAGO -- Chris Sale returned from his jersey-trashing suspension and threw six effective innings, but John Lackey outpitched him and Aroldis Chapman got the final four outs to save the Cubs' 3-1 victory over the White Sox in Chicago's rivalry series Thursday night.

Sale (14-4) was greeted with smiles and hugs from his teammates following a five-day ban for tearing up 1976-style uniforms he didn't want to wear before his previous scheduled start. He had command issues, but worked out of trouble while allowing two runs and six hits.

Lackey (8-7) allowed one run in six innings for his first win since June 8. Chapman, in his second appearance since being acquired from the Yankees, struck out two and consistently hit 102 mph in his first save for his new team.

Kris Bryant, who homered against Sale in the All-Star Game, hit an RBI double off the center field wall in the first inning (see full recap). 

Diaz's homer helps Cardinals beat Marlins and Fernandez, 5-4
MIAMI -- Aledmys Diaz homered, doubled and drove in three runs against childhood pal Jose Fernandez, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Miami Marlins 5-4 Thursday.

Fernandez gave up five runs in five innings and fell to 26-2 at Marlins Park.

Miami's Dee Gordon, the 2015 NL batting and stolen bases champion, returned from an 80-game suspension for failing a drug test and went 0 for 4. Ichiro Suzuki doubled as a pinch hitter in the seventh for Miami and needs two hits for 3,000.

Diaz and Matt Holliday homered in the third inning against Fernandez (12-5), who had never previously given up more than one homer in a home game. His only other loss at Marlins Park came on opening day this year against Detroit.

Michael Wacha (6-7) allowed three runs in six innings, and three relievers completed an eight-hitter. Seung Hwan Oh pitched around a one-out single in the ninth for his seventh save (see full recap). 

Familia falters again, Rockies rally for 2-1 win over Mets
NEW YORK -- Mets steady closer Jeurys Familia stumbled for a second straight game, allowing two runs in the ninth inning as the Colorado Rockies beat New York 2-1 Thursday for their seventh win in eight games.

Less than 24 hours after Familia's streak of 52 consecutive regular-season saves was snapped, the right-hander entered in the top of the ninth with a 1-0 lead, and couldn't hold it.

Trevor Story had a leadoff single and stole second. After fellow rookie David Dahl walked, Daniel Descalso bunted up the first base line. Mets catcher Rene Rivera watched as the ball spun toward foul territory but it stopped fair, loading the bases with no out.

With one out, Familia (2-3) got pinch-hitter Cristhian Adames to hit a slow grounder to the right side. First baseman James Loney booted the ball and Story scored to make it 1-all. Familia then threw a wild pitch, allowing Dahl to cross the plate with the go-ahead run (see full recap).

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Aaron Nola picked up his first win since June 5 as the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field on Thursday night.

Nola was supported by some strong offense. After scoring just one run in losing the previous two games in Miami, the Phils erupted for five runs in the first inning. They hit three homers in the game.

The Phillies had been winless in Nola’s previous seven starts.

The Phillies are 47-57.

The Braves have the worst record in the majors at 35-67.

Starting pitching report
Despite leaving with a 7-3 lead after five innings, Nola was not particularly sharp. He gave up eight hits (one was a fly ball that was lost in the twilight sky), walked three and hit a batter. He needed 95 pitches to get through the five innings.

Nola is 6-9 with a 4.78 ERA in 20 starts.

Atlanta’s Matt Wisler gave up seven hits and seven runs in five innings. Five of the runs came in the first inning when the Phillies batted around. Wisler allowed two homers, two singles and walked two in the inning.

Bullpen report
David Hernandez was the first Phillies reliever out of the bullpen. He struggled. But Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez combined to close it out.

Gomez allowed two hits, a walk and a run in the ninth, but earned his 27th save.

At the plate
Aaron Altherr, activated off the disabled list earlier in the day (see story), had a big night in his first game of the season with the big club. He hit the ball hard all night and had three hits, including a two-run homer in the fifth.

Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph hit back-to-back homers in the first inning. Franco’s was a three-run shot. He leads the club with 19 homers. Joseph has 14 homers in 57 games.

Adonis Garcia had two hits and two RBIs for the Braves.

Transaction 
Peter Bourjos was placed on the disabled list and Altherr was activated (see story).

Up next
The series continues Friday night. Vince Velasquez (8-2, 3.34) pitches against Atlanta right-hander Tyrell Jenkins (0-2, 6.17).