There have been no shortage of polarizing athletes in the city of Philadelphia over the last decade. The Eagles have given us Donovan McNabb, a spoonful of Terrell Owens and Assante Samuel. The Phillies' faithful swat the merits of Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard back and forth like a shuttlecock. The Flyers unloaded Mike Richards and Jeff Carter as their contributions were debated in front of Delaware Valley water coolers. Now, they're drinking from the Stanley Cup. For the Philadelphia 76ers, if you have the initials A.I., consider yourself controversial.
Allen Iverson, the original A.I. although never quite "the Answer", was either loved or hated in his adopted city. But no one ever questioned his hustle or heart on the court. Iverson made most of his gaffs off the floor, and on the court of public opinion, Iverson was often dunked on.
Iguodala is a talented basketball player. He came to the Sixers during a stretch of terrible basketball. Philly is a basketball town, but the Big Five collegiate teams make it just as easy for Philly natives to turn to college basketball for their hoops.
Iguodala began showing talent, but the Sixers were in the midst of unloading some inconceivable contracts (see Chris Webber) when they signed "Iggy" to a massive deal of six years, $80 million, which lasts through next season.
Let's be clear about one thing. Saying an NBA player is overpaid is like saying the sun came up today. Philadelphia was not ready to be saddled with a salary cap sucking vacuum after watching the Webber years. Iguodala averaged 18.2 points per game the year he signed the contract and those numbers have gone south since the ink dried.
Sixer fans have been waiting for their next superstar. They've always wanted their current A.I. to be as prolific as the former. That was never a realistic expectation. Iguodala's contract has made it difficult for the Sixers to add pieces to a young and growing nucleus that more than likely won't figure Iggy in their plans. The fans see a $13 million-plus per year player who is an inconsistent shooter, settling for jump shots instead of using his athleticism to get to the basket. They see a player who for years thought he was a star, and only recently understood the value of playing a role.
Iguodala has long been known as a supreme defender who can guard different positions. Contrary to popular belief he can hit the open jumper. When he goes to the basket he's in anyone's class athletically. As far as USA basketball director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski are concerned, he's a perfect fit to be a member of the U.S. Olympic basketball team.
Every player interviewed about the Sixer combo guard/forward, from Kobe Bryant to LeBron James to Chris Paul has sung Iggy's praises as an unselfish facilitator who has been invaluable in practice and will be more so on the court at the Games in London in August.
Iguodala will be asked to play a key role defensively. He'll be asked to help start and often finish the fast break for the athletically superior American squad. He'll be asked to knock down the open jumpers that he'll undoubtedly get with such close attention being paid to Bryant, James, Kevin Durant and Deron Williams. He seems born to play such a role.
The Sixers will likely hold on to Iguodala for the coming season. Will his efforts with the Olympic team translate into a better understanding of how to make the Sixers' youth better? It might be easy to make LeBron look good, but it's a little more difficult when it's a raw and often out of control Evan Turner.
The last time Iguodala played in an international competition was in 2010 when he played the FIBA tournament with the U.S. team. The following season he was plagued by injuries. He had just come off playing 82 games in five of his six NBA seasons. He was an NBA iron man of sorts. You have to wonder if the extended competition after the season broke his rhythm in preparation for the NBA year. He played in just 67 games for the Sixers in 2010-11.
That was just a FIBA tourney. This is the Olympics, and they will often ask him to guard the opposing country's best player. These are NBA talents. He will work as hard as in the regular season or the playoffs. He's also coming off an injured Achilles in the playoffs, as well as knee issues that have been relatively chronic.
I want the U.S. team to pillage in London and bring back gold. Country first. But if Iguodala pays the price for it during the 2012-13 season, possibly his last in a Sixer uniform, I'm not sure how many Sixers' fans are going to feel that patriotic.
Pete Lieber is a freelance writer and a Philadelphia sports enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter at @Lieber14.
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