John Smallwood: Iguodala's leadership qualities are thriving and he should stay with Sixers

Posted: February 23, 2011

CIRCUMSTANCES change.

If this were before the season or back in December, when the 76ers looked like a rudderless ship, I'd agree with my esteemed colleague Sam Donnellon that Andre Iguodala should be traded.

In fact, back in November when the Sixers were off to a 3-13 start, I advocated on our "Philly.com Pro Basketball 2010 App" that they should trade Iguodala and force-feed playing time to rookie Evan Turner.

My reasoning was that the Sixers had gone as far as they could with Iguodala, and that Turner and second-year point guard Jrue Holiday represented a potential for better results.

Iguodala was a nice player, but didn't bring anything fresh to a stale equation. It wasn't about trading Iguodala just to be rid of his bloated contract. I had always agreed with the Sixers wanting value for him.

But in Holiday and Turner, there was another option. The Sixers finally had a scenario that made removing Iguodala from the equation, even at 80 cents on the dollar, logical.

As I said, circumstances change.

Let me qualify this argument by saying that I am not absolutely, 100 percent, without question, against moving Iguodala by tomorrow's NBA trading deadline. If the Sixers got a strong package for Iguodala that would improve the team - i.e., a young, big man with serious offensive and defensive upsides - they'd have to do it.

Good luck finding a partner for a deal like that.

But to simply get rid of Iguodala just to get rid of him makes even less sense now than it ever did.

Where once "giving away" Iguodala was only undervaluing his basketball abilities, now it is undervaluing his importance to and his effect on the Sixers.

Going into tonight's game with the Washington Wizards, the Sixers are 27-29. They have gone 24-16 since that dismal start. They are all but a lock to make the Eastern Conference playoffs and have a legitimate shot at the franchise's first winning record since the 2004-05 season. The play and, more importantly, the leadership of Iguodala has been a big part of that.

One of the first things head coach Doug Collins did when he was hired was to re-emphasize that ownership of this team was with Iguodala.

Statistically, Iguodala (14.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 6.1 assists) is the same player he has always been.

But he has gone all-in with Collins' program, and his teammates have followed.

The Sixers have worked their tails off to absorb and apply what Collins is teaching them, and since they started this turnaround with a 102-86 victory over the New Jersey Nets on Nov. 27, the Sixers have experienced the positive results of Collins' system.

These players now play with a swagger that they expect to win.

To suddenly tear that all out from under them by just making a "contract dump" with Iguodala would have a devastating impact for the short and long term.

The Sixers have bought in to Collins the way every organization prays its players will buy in to a coach. For management to bail out on them by trading Iguodala just to do it would effectively crush all of the progress the Sixers have made and would be a slap in the face to Collins and the players.

You can sell a good trade to the players. They are professionals. They would understand.

But a salary dump - and they will recognize one - would tell them that all the work they have put in and all the strides they have made is bull, because we don't believe in you anyway.

You can't do that if you expect these players to stay faithful to the program.

Admittedly, the Sixers are unlikely to beat the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat or Orlando Magic in the playoffs.

And with the New York Knicks acquiring Carmelo Anthony yesterday to team with Amar'e Stoudemire, things again have gone against the Sixers in the Eastern Conference.

Iguodala is 27, with 6 1/2 years of NBA basketball. It's past the time of thinking he will blossom into much more than his 15.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists career averages.

He is not the young superstar to build everything around. The Sixers recognize their future is now linked to the growth of Holiday and Turner.

Still, there are moments in rebuilding when you have to show faith in the program or risk falling back to ground zero.

With Holiday (20), Turner (22), Thaddeus Young (22), Spencer Hawes (22), Marreese Speights (23) Jodie Meeks (23) Craig Brackins (23) and Lou Williams (24), the Sixers have a ridiculously young roster.

One of the toughest hurdles with young players is to teach them how to become winners and convince them that they can be more. Collins has done that, and Iguodala's presence has played a large role in that.

Getting a winning record, making the playoffs, and being in a position to possibly do more than just make a three-game cameo would be valuable experiences for the growth of these players.

All of that is possible with Iguodala staying on the roster.

Sabotaging that effort simply for the reasons of getting minimal cap relief and a midlevel first-round pick by trading Iguodala would be a negative.

If you can make a good trade for Iguodala, fine.

But remember that if you give Iguodala away simply to give him away, you also are giving away all the progress the 76ers and Collins have made.

Send e-mail to

smallwj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

www.philly.com/Smallwood.

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