Bob Cooney: Iguodala, Collins have formed a strong bond

Posted: January 18, 2012


When speaking of his multitalented forward, Andre Iguodala, those are the words most commonly used by Doug Collins since his arrival here in May 2010. The new Sixers coach talked of wanting Iguodala to be connected with the plans that he had for him and the team; of Iguodala being engaged to Collins' vision of how he would best fit as the elder statesman of a young group.

It appears now that the two have connected. The goals are now dually envisioned, the plan understood. And for the first time in a long time, maybe ever in his 8 years in Philadelphia, Iguodala appears truly happy and in tune not only with his coach but with the fans.

Yesterday, after a light practice, Iguodala was sought out by reporters wanting to talk about him being one of the 20 finalists for the Olympic Team that will compete in London this summer. But before all that came up, the conversation was about the fans and how they've responded to this team that has catapulted to a 10-3 start with its unselfish play, relentless defense and gotta-love-'em personalities.

Iguodala acknowledged the fan section behind the south basket at the Wells Fargo Center, praising those patrons for their chants and outlandish behavior. That Iguodala knows they are there isn't surprising, but him saying so is.

Despite his play through the years, when he has accumulated impressive averages of 15.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists and close to two steals, Iguodala and the fans never have seemed to form a bond. Fans often expressed their regret about the huge 6-year, $80 million contract Iguodala signed in the summer of 2008. And Iguodala fed off that, it appeared, usually trying to prove he was worth the money.

In reality, though, all Iguodala did was sign a contract that was offered to him. And in return, all fans wanted was superstar play to match the superstar contract.

Somewhere a happy medium needed to be found, and Collins knew that. It appears now to be all coming together.

Iguodala seems to be more at peace with his game, with the schemes, with the fans, with everything that encompasses his basketball life.

"I just see a different countenance. I just see his face is happy," Collins said. "Early in the game [Monday against Milwaukee] he hit a couple of shots and some of the fans underneath the basket started chanting 'USA.' Little things like that. He so wants these fans to appreciate what he brings. As do I. He's been playing great. He's been playing first-team defense, he's playing at an All-Star level.

"One of the reasons that we've won some games is because he has been in such a great place with his defense. Guys who we have to defend on a nightly basis, we've been putting him on them. I think he really likes his teammates. I think he really enjoys playing with these guys. He's just happy and it makes me happy. This game is so much more fun when you can smile and enjoy it. This year 'Dre is really, really enjoying it."

The winning certainly helps, as does the stability. In Collins, Iguodala knows he has a coach who won't be pulled out from under him in a short-time period. That luxury can't be overstated as Iguodala is being mentored by his fifth coach in eight seasons.

So, is he happier than at any time during his career?

"I wouldn't say happier, I probably would say healthier, that's the biggest thing," Iguodala said. "I've been getting here [to practice] earlier, forgetting that I don't need to be that early - I'm just so used to getting here a couple of hours before and getting treatment. I get a chance to relax and reflect on what we've done so far and what we've got ahead. It gives me a little bit more free time to just think about the game."

He is cerebral.

Questions from the media are rarely answered with off-the-cuff responses. He processes what he hears from the fans, though he seems to store it inside. Trying to connect with Iguodala has been a futile effort by fans through the years, but maybe now it's different. Maybe now, a couple of weeks away from turning 28, Iguodala is happy with where he is in his basketball life, where he is in regard to where the team is, and with its fans.

The love affair a player always hopes to have with his home followers never really has materialized between Iguodala and the Sixers' faithful.

But it could be blossoming right now. Iguodala's inclusion as an Olympic finalist shows that his game is appreciated by many, maybe even more than by the team's fans until now.

"I think sometimes that happens," Collins said of hometown fans maybe being a little harsher.

"Who knows your warts more than your wife, the person that you stay with on a day-to-day basis? All these other people talk about what a great guy you are and she's like, 'Why don't you come live with him for a little bit?' It's usually the people you're closest to who've seen more of you are the ones that pick at you a little more, which is just sort of human nature. But I can tell you, 'Dre, when he plays like he has this season, the fans are going to love him. He's the catalyst in everything that we do."

Said Iguodala:

"We've built a good unit of guys and I've always said that we can build upon something and build some camaraderie."

He seems to be fully on board with that, and 10-3 is the result.

Connected. Engaged. And perhaps an Olympian this summer.

What's not to like, if you're Andre Iguodala or a Sixers fan?

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