At the moment, Andre Iguodala is the highest-paid player on the Memphis Grizzlies. But that might not be the case for long. After weeks of furious wheeling and dealing around the NBA, the most interesting major difference-maker left for would-be contenders to chase might just be a best-selling author fresh off averaging 5.7 points per game.
Memphis’s new front office, led by 31-year-old executive vice president of basketball operations Zach Kleiman, has spent its summer working to build a war chest. The Grizzlies turned star point guard Mike Conley into Grayson Allen, Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, the no. 23 pick in the 2019 draft (later redirected for the rights to newly minted summer league MVP Brandon Clarke), and a protected first-round pick in 2020. They flipped Korver and Jevon Carter to Phoenix for De’Anthony Melton and former no. 4 pick Josh Jackson, plus two future second-rounders; they added two more second-round picks in the sign-and-trade that sent Delon Wright to Dallas. And they took advantage of Golden State’s need to free up cap space to pull off the Kevin Durant sign-and-trade that landed D’Angelo Russell by taking on the expiring contract of Iguodala, at the cost of a very lightly protected 2024 first-round selection.
Landing a pick to absorb Iguodala was a good piece of business for the Grizz; they could cut him loose to the open market and still come out ahead on the deal. But a team still in the early stages of a rebuild around blue-chip prospects Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant needs to take advantage of every opportunity it has to add assets, which is why Kleiman and Co. have made it clear they don’t plan to buy Iguodala out, and are prepared to keep the 15-year vet around for a while in pursuit of a trade partner.
It might take a minute, but they stand a good chance of finding one. Iguodala posted career lows in points and minutes per game last season, but in the spring, he proved that he’s still the kind of player who can make an impact in the postseason.
For the Rockets—who just shook up their core by trading Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook, and who reportedly came up just short in a bid for Iguodala’s services back in 2017—finding a way to add Iguodala for next season is now seen as “priority no. 1,” according to Sam Amick of The Athletic. But the sticker shock of Iguodala’s $17.2 million salary for 2019-20 seems to be a sticking point for Houston. Already over the luxury tax line with their current roster, the Rockets are, according to Shams Charania, uncomfortable with the idea of diving deeper into the tax to acquire Iguodala. Assuming the Rockets wouldn’t want to move Eric Gordon in a deal—teams hunting titles would prefer not to lose valuable two-way guards on reasonable contracts who fit perfectly in their systems, after all—that could prove to be a major roadblock, unless Houston general manager Daryl Morey is able to loop in another team (or teams) to absorb salaries that would make the final product more palatable for owner Tilman Fertitta.
The team Charania tabbed as the other top suitor for Iguodala’s services, the Los Angeles Clippers, also faces a significant hurdle: a lack of contracts and assets to ship to Memphis, after sending nearly all it had to Oklahoma City in the megadeal that imported Paul George and secured the commitment of Kawhi Leonard. The opportunity to team with Leonard and wreak havoc on opposing offenses was, in 2017, a key aspect of the San Antonio Spurs’ free-agency pitch to Iguodala; these Clippers would bolster that tandem with George and point guard Patrick Beverley, a collection of all-world perimeter defenders. But the only midsize contract on the Clippers’ books not attached to a mission-critical cog belongs to recent addition Maurice Harkless, whom Charania reports that the L.A. brain trust would prefer not to move in any Iguodala deal. For the time being, then, it seems like the Clips are in the market for third and fourth teams to get in on the dealing, too.
Other playoff hopefuls could also emerge in the Iguodala bidding. Before Rob Pelinka became Lakers general manager, he was Iguodala’s agent; after he joined L.A.’s front office, he got the team a conference call with Iguodala the minute free agency opened in 2017. Two years later, the Lakers would reportedly love another crack at adding the experienced swingman, according to Marc Stein of The New York Times.
The Mavericks are also reportedly interested in adding Iguodala as a veteran counterpart to young guns Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, though Memphis evidently isn’t too keen on taking back Courtney Lee’s salary in return, according to Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com. Stein also reported earlier this month that the Nuggets—with whom Iguodala spent one season before joining the Warriors in 2013—are “interested in making an ambitious play to bring Iguodala back to Denver” to join the 54-win core constructed around point-center Nikola Jokic. That interest reportedly took a hit, though, once it became clear that the Grizzlies are looking to extract a first-round draft pick from any prospective trade partner.
Teams may bristle at that price tag for one season of a player who won’t be able to play his best every night; a first-rounder might seem like an awful lot to give up for someone who’ll give you only 20 minutes a game and might not actually make jumpers until mid-April. For the teams vying for a spot at the top of the food chain, though, Iguodala represents a shot at landing one of the most valuable commodities in the sport: what now-former teammate Draymond Green famously dubbed the “16-game player,” the one built for the crucible of the postseason, who can hold up under playoff pressure and perform in the moments that swing matchups, games, series, and titles.
Iguodala has a bullet-proof, arguably Hall of Fame–worthy résumé: All-Star, Olympic and FIBA World Championship gold medalist, All-Defensive teamer, three-time champion, Finals MVP. He exudes gravitas, with 15 years of experience and nearly two full seasons worth of playoff games under his belt. His willingness to accept a role as a super-sub on the Warriors helped establish an expectation of sacrifice and ego-sublimation for those who’d come after; he’s a second-unit leader, a tone-setter, the kind of vet who can help coax more out of young reserves.
He can also, y’know, still play. Iguodala finished sixth among small forwards in ESPN’s defensive plus-minus rankings last season, and remained Golden State’s no. 1 defensive option against top perimeter threats in the playoffs. According to NBA.com’s Second Spectrum matchup data, no other Warrior spent more time on Lou Williams in Round 1, James Harden in Round 2, or Kawhi Leonard in the Finals; those three combined to shoot just 53-for-141 (37.6 percent) when directly defended by Iguodala. And he’s still capable of coming through in big moments: He drained five 3-pointers in the Game 6 closeout win over Houston, came up with the game-icing strip of Damian Lillard in Game 2 against Portland, knocked down the final-seconds 3 to beat Toronto in Game 2, and scored 22 points in Game 6 against the Raptors in a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to extend the Finals.
Getting Iguodala in the door will cost a pretty penny, and getting him to the postseason in full working order might take some minutes management. When the money’s on the table, though, he’s one of the guys you want on the floor—and maybe the only player left on the market with an established track record of mattering when it matters most.
“A lot of teams want Andre for what he brings: his intensity, his smarts, his quick hands, his athleticism,” then-teammate Kevin Durant told reporters during the 2018 Western Conference finals. “Everybody wants that if they’re trying to build a championship team.”
All that’s left, then, is to find out how much every suitor wants it, and how much they’re willing to offer Memphis to get it.
An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated the return Memphis received for Mike Conley.