Iguodala the Sixers' version of Grant Hill

Andre Iguodala has ball knocked away by Suns' Jared Dudley and Grant Hill.
Andre Iguodala has ball knocked away by Suns' Jared Dudley and Grant Hill.
Posted: January 25, 2011

GRANT HILL is one of Doug Collins' favorite topics, which should be of no surprise. The NBA veteran has persevered through much in the 15 seasons since Collins coached him as a rookie, from freak ankle injuries and an even freakier infection, to the trials of his personal life, specifically his wife's 2003 diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

As their top draft pick, Hill was supposed to herald the Pistons into a new championship era and later, was supposed to do the same in Orlando. He is booed there now, Collins noted last night, something, said the coach, "That I don't understand."

Which is as good a way as any to introduce the plight of Andre Iguodala, the Sixers' Hamlet, a player who team brass believes too good to be given away simply for contract relief, but a player for whom teams have, so far, been unwilling to sacrifice much.

So he remains here, increasingly unloved and increasingly unappreciated, an unwitting metaphor for this franchise's flat line of mediocrity that Collins was hired to exorcise.

"Andre Iguodala is a triple-double guy," Collins was saying last evening before the Sixers' 105-95 victory over Hill's Phoenix Suns. "That's what Grant Hill was for me in Detroit. Andre Iguodala guards the other team's best player. He'll give you 16 points, five, six assists, six, seven rebounds and a couple of steals most nights. I'll take that guy on my team every day."

Iguodala is an asset, clearly. His hard play, his willingness and ability to guard the other team's best players - well, they are the exact traits for which Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry lauded Hill outside the other locker room last night.

"He's guarded 'one' through 'four' for us," Gentry said of Hill, now 38. "We've played him on Blake Griffin, we've played him on Kobe. We've played him on every position but the center position. I don't think anyone has asked a guy, especially one who has been around as long as he has, to do what we ask him to do."

As Collins pointed out, the Sixers do. The Suns were finishing off a long East Coast swing, so Hill was given the fourth quarter off after the Sixers built a 22-point lead. But he still finished with 13 points, five assists and two steals.

Playing almost identical minutes, Iguodala scored eight points on three fewer shots, had three assists, two steals and a couple of rebounds. For the season the two men have nearly identical points per game and similar rebound averages, although Iguodala's assist average is twice that of Hill's.

Then again, Iguodala is due $44 million over the next three seasons. Hill is in the last year of a 2-year deal that will earn him about $3.25 million this season.

Expected to be Michael Jordan's heir when he entered the league, Hill got his money back then, and even through his injury-plagued seasons with Orlando, which is why he gets booed there. Another reason is that when the Suns reached the Western Conference finals last year, it marked the first time he had played past the first round, an NBA record of some sort.

It might seem much longer, but this is just Iguodala's seventh season in the NBA. Drafted ninth overall, he never endured Hill's unrealistic expectations, although when the Sixers finally jettisoned Allen Iverson, it was hoped he would elevate to superstar status. But the 6-year, $80 million deal to which Ed Stefanski signed him in August 2008 was more speculative than reflective, and it has resulted in expectations that have burdened his play at times, and left him moody.

"I played here," Collins said. "I was never booed here. I never felt disrespected. Because they knew I gave my heart and soul. And I have two artificial hips and a knee to show that. And I'm back here at age 60 trying to show that I am still embedded in this city emotionally and I want this organization to do well . . .

"I grew up here. I became a man here. My feeling is Andre Iguodala, as we continue to get better, I think he's going to get more and more recognition for being a part of that."

With each passing day, that theory is more likely to be tested. Team president Rod Thorn, in a recent and telling sitdown with Comcast SportsNet's Dei Lynam, at least implied that he was willing to trade Iguodala . . .

If he could get a fair offer for him.

The Sixers are 19-25, in the chase for the last few seeds of the Eastern Conference playoffs. A veteran like Iguodala, a shutdown defender, would seem important to that chase. But the dough he is due over the next three seasons could also suffocate any meaningful resurgence, which gets back to the whole metaphor end of it. Iguodala embodies the public's impatience with this franchise, as the fans have made him well aware.

"That's not on me," Collins said. "I need to do what I need to do as a coach. I can't make that adjustment . . . If I start getting into the psychological profiles of fans, I really will be a mess."

Send e-mail to donnels@phillynews.com. For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/donnellon.

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