Marcus Hayes: Iguodala deserves to be treated like a returning hero

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"I haven't really enjoyed basketball a whole lot the last couple of years," Andre Iguodala said recently. (Michael Perez/AP file photo)

ANDRE IGUODALA returns Wednesday night.

It is a quirk of fate that brings the Sixers' best player over the past 6 years back to town on their season's opening night; the schedule came out before the Sixers traded Iguodala to Denver.

It was youthful petulance that led Iguodala to review his final few seasons in Philadelphia so harshly.

The quick return and his bitter words put Sixers fans in a troubling spot.

Should they greet Iguodala with typical Philadelphian bile and spite? Boo him at introductions, jeer him on every touch, applaud every failure?

Or should they, instead, overlook Iguodala's impudence?

After all, he was The Franchise, for better or worse, after the Sixers traded Allen Iverson during the 2006-07 season. He became a defensive intimidator and evolved into a team spokesman: reluctant, perhaps; aloof, to be sure; but a spokesman, nevertheless.

He played hurt; heroically so over the past two seasons, fighting knee and ankle issues.

He helped the team to the playoffs four of the past five seasons.

He played for five different coaches in those five seasons.

He became an Olympian, and a gold medalist.

Usually, he comported himself with grace in the face of ingrates; with class, as critics frothed and spat.

Hopefully, the crowd will not reflect the cutting commentary that accompanied much of Iguodala's service.

Hopefully, it will recall Iguodala, triumphant, standing on the scorer's table, exultant and connected after hitting two free throws with 2.2 seconds left to beat the Bulls in Game 6 last May and win the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Hopefully, it will forget Iguodala's 43.4 free-throw percentage after the third quarter, a bizarre phenomenon unique to 2011-12.

Hopefully, it will remember how Iguodala scored 16 points or more four times in the playoffs last season and 15 times in the regular season.

Hopefully, it will forget his average of 12.4 points per game last season, his lowest since Iverson left.

The crowd never will forget how Iguodala signed a 6-year, $80 million contract in 2008, then failed to blossom into an every-night scorer, or even a late-game assassin. Never mind that Iguodala was not making the same money as Kobe or LeBron or Dwyane; he was paid in their neighborhood, and he was marketed as the team's best player.

The best player has to score. Period.

Iguodala was incapable of connecting with the populace like a frenetic Iverson, or a bombastic Barkley, or an otherworldly Doctor J. He lacked the charisma, and, frankly, the ego.

He had more in common with such insular contemporaries as Mike Richards, the Flyers' combative captain, and Donovan McNabb, the Eagles' conflicted quarterback.

None of them embraced the idea that the customer is always right.

None of them is particularly missed; none might ever be missed.

None of them deserves that disservice.

When Iguodala is introduced, he deserves respect.

He deserves a pregame video montage for which the Sixers are well known.

He deserves to have his hand shaken by distinguished alumni guests Dikembe Mutombo and Moses Malone at midcourt.

He deserves to get a hug from coach Doug Collins and general manager Tony DiLeo, who defended his shortcomings and praised his strengths.

So what if Iguodala whined a bit.

So what if he told cbssportsline.com that he never could satisfy his coaches, who, he said, told him at once to score less and to score more.

So what if he said: "I haven't really enjoyed basketball a whole lot the last couple of years. Last year was a big year for us, but it was just draining for the criticism to be there every single day."

Truth be told, Iguodala didn't look as if he enjoyed any of his years in Philadelphia. He never looks as if he enjoys anything, for that matter.

So what if, as a Sixer, Iguodala routinely criticized his teammates for lazy defense, for losing focus, for unprofessionalism. The fact was, some occasionally played lazy defense, lost focus and were unprofessional.

His criticism is leadership.

Collins understands that. Collins understands a lot of things about the young men working in the NBA; it is his gift, as a former player, a commentator, a father, and, of course, as a coach.

If Iguodala did not buy into Collins' scheme, if he did not buy into Collins' ethic, the Sixers would have missed the playoffs the past two seasons.

Iguodala did buy in, and the Sixers grew, and Collins' stock rose. Iguodala became the sort of invaluable complementary player for whom the Sixers could garner in trade the massive talent that is Andrew Bynum, around whom they can build for the next decade.

As such, Collins now speaks of Iguodala only with gratefulness and with respect.

Which is how Iguodala should be received.

 


Contact Marcus Hayes at hayesm@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to www.philly.com/MarcusHayes.