Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Andre Iguodala’s Free Agency May End Golden State’s Run

Michael Pina

The versatile sixth man could be squeezed out of Golden State if Kevin Durant signs a max contract.

Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

With the dominant way the Golden State Warriors have played during this postseason, it seems silly to wonder how long their stranglehold on the league, or at least the Western Conference, could last. The Warriors are undefeated and have the best defense in the postseason by nearly four points per 100 possessions. Whenever Draymond Green, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson are healthy enough to play at the same time, their record is a scintillating 51-9 this year, including the playoffs.

But beyond this season looms a larger question about the future of the franchise, and the future of its least likely lynchpin: Andre Iguodala.

Even at 33 years old, Iguodala remains a critical contributor off Golden State's bench. He's the influential veteran presence who does just about everything pretty well. Few players meet his combination of athleticism, versatility, and unselfishness. Throw intelligence into the pot, and the Warriors clearly have a special player.

"He knows how to run the floor, run through if two guys are filling the lane. If he's the ball handler, he's pushing the pace," Warriors assistant coach Jarron Collins told VICE Sports. "He's almost like a point forward...someone who's a playmaker when he has the ball in his hands, to find shooters or to find someone on the rim run. His intelligence on the basketball court, and his basketball IQ, is tremendous."

Iguodala is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and whether the Warriors lose him almost entirely depends on how Durant uses the flexibility afforded to him by the new CBA. It seems very unlikely that Durant will opt into his $27.7 million player option for next season since that would cost him millions of dollars.

If Durant opts out, the two most probable scenarios are: A) a 1+1 deal using his Non-Bird Rights that starts at approximately $31.8 million (120 percent of his 2016-17 salary) or B) a brand new max contract that'd start around $35.3 million per year. The former keeps Golden State above the cap and allows them to retain all their own free agents, if they so choose. But if Durant wants as much money as he's eligible to earn then that potentially squeezes out a player like Iguodala.

Curry, Durant, Green, and Thompson would nearly fill the salary cap by themselves, leaving just over $10 million in space, the $4.3 million room exception, and a troop of veteran's minimum deals to fill out the roster. That may still be enough to win it all, but the margin for error is so thin. You may ask: who cares if the Warriors lose Iguodala?

One front office executive told VICE Sports that he thinks the Warriors would still be the favorites to win it all next season—sans Iguodala—but building a competent bench would be extremely difficult given their financial situation.

Several parts of Iguodala's game would be missed, not to mention the fact Golden State would be losing a Finals MVP who helped them win a championship two years ago.

Iguodala enables Golden State's groundbreaking adaptability with an individual flair that's emblematic of how they want to play. His performance in the 2015 Finals was a watershed moment for NBA basketball. Trailing 2-1 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr went small by inserting Iguodala into Game 4's starting lineup. From then on, the Warriors outscored the Cavs by 46 points with him on the court, and the rest is history.

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Collins, who's been with the Warriors since Iguodala's first season with the team and has played with countless all stars, needs a second to think when asked if Iguodala is the smartest player he's ever been around.

"I've been around a lot of good ones. I've had the pleasure to play with some Hall of Famers: John Stockton, Karl Malone, Steve Nash. I've played with a lot of great players. I will say that he's right up there. Especially with someone like Karl Malone, in just that he understands player tendencies," Collins said. "It's not just necessarily the guy that they're going against, it's everyone. Everybody on that other roster, Andre has a mental rolodex, a mental book on them, and what they want to do to be successful. He understands positioning, playing for strips, and the anticipation, knowing what the player wants to do."

The numbers make the case for Iguodala's importance. He had the same True Shooting percentage as Curry this season (an impressive 62.4), and ranked 24th out of 468 players in Real Plus-Minus after having been third overall during his first year in Golden State. He also finished dead last on the Warriors in usage. Dead last!

But watch this team play and Iguodala feels so vital. Over the last three postseasons, he averaged more touches than everyone on the team except Curry and Green. That includes this current run, where he handles the ball more frequently than Thompson and Durant despite spending fewer minutes on the court.

Only Durant, Jon Leuer, DeAndre Jordan, and LeBron James finished with a higher field goal percentage in the restricted area this year (on at least 150 attempts), while only Nikola Jokic and JaMychal Green were more accurate from the mid-range (on at least 60 attempts).

"Andre is a proven player in this league, so he'd have success no matter which team he's on. Hopefully it's us for many years to come, but obviously you just look at his history. His numbers don't lie," Collins said. "He had success when he was in Philadelphia. He had success when he was with Denver. He's having success now. A lot of that is just a credit to his ability to acclimate himself to whatever environment he's in, with whatever team. It just so happens that our team plays best to his strengths because we have so many different playmakers."

Iguodala's situation feels like a convenient perfect storm—from roster makeup to playing style to role—but it's also clear he can still help a different team next season. If Durant re-signs with a max contract, Iguodala is as good as gone.

One league source joked that no matter what, Iguodala better get more money than Jamal Crawford, the Los Angeles Clippers sixth man who signed a three-year, $42 million contract last summer. This is accurate. Iguodala laps Crawford in just about every area that matters and is nearly four years younger. Anything between $15-18 million in that first year sounds right, but he still needs a buyer.

Photo by Cary Edmondson - USAToday Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers will probably call. Luke Walton is Iguodala's former coach and Rob Pelinka, now L.A.'s general manager, was his former agent. Assuming Nick Young opts out of his player option, the Lakers can open up nearly $29 million in cap space this summer. Pelinka can bid for his ex-client's service and potentially still have enough room to afford Paul George the following summer.

Across the country, if the Boston Celtics swing and miss on Gordon Hayward and Blake Griffin, Iguodala would be an ideal fit off their bench. Boston deploys a similar read-and-react playing style to the one Iguodala enjoys in Golden State, and Iguodala's defense in the playoffs could be what nudges the Celtics past LeBron James.

"He's probably one of the best on-ball wing defenders," Collins said.

The Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, Dallas Mavericks, and Minnesota Timberwolves will all have enough cap space to make a competitive offer. Each would be through the moon to add Iguodala to their roster.

If he does in fact leave the Bay Area, replacing all the on-court intangibles will be virtually impossible. Finding someone who can provide a positive locker room influence may be even harder.

"You can tell that Andre had solid vets teach him and instruct him the ways about being professional," Collins said. "This is his 13th year in the league, and you can see that Andre is doing that for our young guys. So he's giving back. I think that that is one of the coolest things about team sports. You learn the professional game, you continue to grow and to learn, and then you give it back. He is that solid veteran that you need."

A quick look at this summer's free agent class doesn't inspire much hope that Golden State could replace Iguodala, especially considering they'd barely have any cap space and only a $4.3 million exception to utilize. That means suitable plug-and-play cogs like C.J. Miles and Kyle Korver are out of their price range. Maybe Golden State brings back Brandon Rush, or positions itself as the first team to maximize Jeff Green's raw ability. Maybe Jodie Meeks' injuries deflate his price tag. Or the league, for whatever reason, still decides they don't like Omri Casspi. Can P.J. Tucker be had? What about Thabo Sefolosha, Jonas Jerebko, or Luke Babbitt?

None of these names come close to replicating Iguodala's impact, let alone Shaun Livingston's. There's a chance the Warriors will finally feel the aftermath of a stringent collective bargaining agreement that was designed to prevent four All-NBA talents from teaming up with arguably the league's best sixth man.

If Durant waves goodbye to that extra $4 million and the Warriors are able to bring back whoever they want, they'll roll on until poor health and/or age-related decline ends their run. Curry will be 30 in next year's postseason. Durant will be 29. Green and Thompson will be 28. They will enter the next two seasons, at least, as heavy title favorites.

But if not, the rest of the league can exhale a slight sigh of relief. The mighty Warriors may not be as dominant for as long as everyone else initially feared.