Iguodala's role, how Warriors picked return date over Magic

Iguodala’s role, how Warriors picked return date over Magic

SAN FRANCISCO — The last NBA game Andre Iguodala appeared in was Game 6 of the 2022 NBA Finals when he replaced Andrew Wiggins for the final 62 seconds to celebrate with his Warriors teammates. Steve Kerr’s move was partly symbolic.

Iguodala has played just 39 regular season games for the 2021-22 campaign and only seven more in the playoffs. However, Kerr and Iguodala’s Warriors teammates were equally thrilled with his immense value to the team, even on the sidelines. Then there was the big question: is it for Iguodala?

Many speculated that Iguodala would emerge victorious after earning his fourth ring with the Warriors. He turns 39 later this month and has built a career that can lead him to the Hall of Fame. The Warriors wanted him back, and Iguodala officially signed a one-year contract for his 19th and final NBA season in late September.

Between Iguodala, the coaches and the Warriors coaching staff, the plan has always been for Iguodala to sit out as long as necessary so that he is in better health for the second half of the season this time, as well as for the playoffs. On Saturday, he will make his season debut after missing the first 39 games of the season with what was listed as ‘left hip injury management’.

So how did Iguodala and the Warriors land on his return to face the Orlando Magic at Chase Center?

“My feet feel good, because I’m wearing these shoes,” Iguodala joked in the middle of a New Balance debate. “Therefore, my feet started to feel good.”

In reality, it all goes back to Dr. Rick Celebrini. Without him, Iguodala might not be a warrior right now.

The two were on the same page by the time Iguodala decided to return for one more season. Celebrini, the Warriors director of sports medicine and performance, already had an elaborate plan for Iguodala. The plan sealed Iguodala’s decision.

And he stayed in tune with that the whole time.

“You know, I just stuck to the plan,” Iguodala said. “Rick had a plan from the start. You just have to stick to it, he did a great job with it. … So, I just stuck to the plan.”

Of course, Kerr had to agree with the decision and believe that Iguodala can help the Warriors in the immediate future. The Warriors are 20-19, and each win means a lot more in the Western Conference standings. This is not a team that can wait to bring a player up to speed.

Luckily for Kerr and the Warriors, that doesn’t appear to be the case. At least not from what Kerr has seen in practice and the handful of scrums Iguodala has been involved in.

Those reps also pressured Kerr to give the go-ahead, and he was impressed with what he saw from the veteran.

“Well, he’s such a weird athlete, he’s still in amazing shape,” Kerr said. “And then his brain is one of his strongest assets, so he immediately steps on the ground and is one step ahead of everyone else in the game on both sides.

“It’s great to see him play there.”

For the past two weeks, the Warriors really knew Iguodala was on the verge of a comeback. Once he started scrimmaging, it was obvious that playing in a game was just around the corner. How many minutes he can play is to be determined.

Iguodala will be on a minute restriction, but Kerr didn’t go into specifics on where to start there. Everything is to be determined as to the future availability of Iguodala. Maybe that means there’s no back-to-back or even resting a few games and then playing one. Maybe he’s into it.

As Kerr said, the hardest thing for a player at Iguodala’s career point is to stack the games. Iguodala went all the way in and out of the gates last season and quickly ran out of gas. The hope is that keeping his tank fresh will extend his expiration date.

On the court, Iguodala brings versatility offensively and defensively. He has an acute ability to make things easier for everyone, and that should be a big boost for goalscorers like Jordan Poole as an extra ball player and even his selection.

However, Kerr is considering the role of Iguodala, the player himself summed it up by saying, “just be myself.” That could certainly mean helping Poole in particular as someone who has struggled with turnovers of late. Poole is lightning fast but can sometimes over speed the game. Iguodala knows how to control him and slow everything down.

“I hope so,” Iguodala said when asked if he thought part of his role was to relieve Poole of so much pressure. “I try to give him easier shots. I know for a fact he likes being there with me and Draymond [Green]because our know-how is to facilitate, to help them, to make their lives easier.”

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The Warriors on Saturday are guaranteed to bring Iguodala back to the field. Andrew Wiggins has trained with the team and is listed as probable after missing the last 15 games. Steph Curry competed Friday at 5-on-5 and full contact for the first time since suffering a left shoulder subluxation.

All is well in San Francisco.

Curry was also a big reason Iguodala was set to don a Warriors jersey for one final season. He’s certainly happy to have his longtime friend back in the fold.

“It’s exciting, he’s put in a lot of work,” Curry said. “Knowing how interesting his offseason was about whether or not he was going to come back and once he made that decision to come back with us and come to training camp and start his journey, every day he ground little by little, getting her well conditioned, doing her rehearsals.

“He looks great. He always does the Andre thing at both ends of the floor in the scrums that we’ve had that I’ve seen him play. I’m glad he’s out. Rehab is tough and boring, it’s isolated. For him, he manages nothing but getting his whole body right, so I’m sure he’s excited to hoop and enjoy what it means to him.

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