Little Dippers

Andre Iguodala is very good at what he does, but he's just not an upper-echelon NBA star.
Andre Iguodala is very good at what he does, but he's just not an upper-echelon NBA star.


Posted: October 27, 2010

WHEN Andre Iguodala was added to the roster of the U.S. national team that won the world championship this summer in Turkey, his role was defined from the outset by coach Mike Krzyzewski: that of a defensive specialist who would score in the open floor and occasionally drain a midrange jumper.

For the player who has pretty much been the face of the Sixers for the past six seasons, that would seem to be a demotion, but really it was just a telltale sign to the player Iguodala really is - one whom any of the 16 teams that will eventually make the NBA playoffs this season would covet.

He averaged 17.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists last season on a 27-55 team last season. He and LeBron James, who will invade the Wells Fargo Center with his new Miami team tonight, were the only players in the league to average at least 17 points, six rebounds and five assists.

James is a superstar, whose addition turns a mediocre team into a championship contender. And just about all of the NBA titleholders in recent memory have had at least one superstar on the roster, with the exception of Larry Brown's 2004 Detroit Pistons - though the following season they did have four All-Stars.

Fairly, Iguodala is not the superstar player who can lead a team to a title, or far in the playoffs. He is, quite frankly, the biggest band- aid on this Sixers team that is filled with smaller ones. It is a roster that doesn't fit together very well, is void of a dominant inside player and will have a 20-year-old running the point, Jrue Holiday.

"Andre is a star at what he does best, which is defending, rebounding, getting assists and scoring some points," said Doug Collins, who will make his debut as the Sixers' coach tonight. "He's a star that way. People view stars in the league as guys that put up 25 to 30 points a night and their team goes deep in the playoffs.

"I've been very happy with what 'Dre has done for us and he has done everything I've asked him to do."

Iguodala will earn $13.7 million this year, a figure that will go up about $1 million in each of the next three seasons. But for Sixers fans, or anyone else, to view him as a player to build around, well, that is just a gross mistake.

So if Iguodala is not an upper-echelon star to build around, then do the Sixers have enough other pieces to make them a contender in an Eastern Conference which has changed dramatically from last season?

It just doesn't appear so.

Elton Brand was signed in the summer of 2008 after the Sixers were ousted in the first round of the playoffs in six games by the Pistons. The thinking was that Brand would lend an inside presence to a team that sorely needed one, especially at playoff time.

When a star was needed, Brand was chosen. Since he was signed for 5 years and $80 million, he had one season ended prematurely by an Achilles' injury, and last season sustained a devastating shoulder injury. Brand, now 31, didn't get along with coach Eddie Jordan last season, and getting back to his old 20-point, 10-rebound form seems a distant possibility.

Holiday, whom Collins said would be one of the top five point guards in the league by next season, has the unenviable task of running a team that is looking for a positive identity.

Inside scoring could be about as rare as an undercooked steak. And the interior defense might yield more lanes than an empty bowling alley.

The second overall pick, Evan Turner, isn't comfortable in the position the team envisioned him playing (shooting guard), and two of the promising young players on which so much hope was laid - Thad Young and Marreese Speights - seem to have taken two steps back for every one step forward in the last year.

It's almost as if Collins, who has repeatedly said he was brought here to build a winning attitude and improve the outlook for the organization, is trying to put together a puzzle that is without border pieces.

"It's tough, very tough," Collins said of making a contender of a team that is without a superstar. "Superstars win in this game. That's why I say we have to have strength in numbers. We have to have 10 guys who are going to contribute on a nightly basis. When we've played some good basketball, we have had that. If all of the sudden we get five or six guys playing halfway decent but three or four who don't, we don't have a chance. We're going to have to have guys who play well in numbers on nights, especially to give us a chance to play well against the elite teams in the league."

They face the elitist among the elite tonight. They will be paddling against the tide in a five-man boat that will be short a few paddles.

Collins has said this is the biggest challenge of his coaching career and that he has never worked harder to get pieces to come together.

As good as he has been at doing that in the past, this is different. And it will stay that way, until there is a legitimate superstar to build around. *

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