On Friday, Andre Iguodala opted out of the final year of his current contract, leaving nearly $16M on the table to pursue another big pay day. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the Pistons are one of several teams who are interested in signing the Denver swingman:
After superstars Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, Iguodala will be a target for several teams, including the Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons and New Orleans Pelicans, league sources said.
The interest in Iguodala is sensible. He's a gifted playmaker on the wing, he's an excellent perimeter defender and he's a blindingly-efficient scorer at the rim. If he was a few years younger, a few million cheaper and had a few more feet to his range, he'd be precisely the kind of player the Pistons need. Yet his age, his expected cost and his limited offense could create a recipe for disaster in Detroit.
The marks of decline are appearing in Andre's game, he's expecting a long-term, 8-figure pay day, and his inability to score outside of the paint make him the worst fit next to Detroit's twin towers up front. Over the next several weeks, you'll hear sports writers, fans and possibly even team officials suggest that Iguodala is a good fit for Detroit. None of them will be thinking things through.
Andre Iguodala's Decline Has Begun
When an athletic player like Iguodala approaches 30, cracks begin to show in their statistical foundation. Rebounds tend to decline a bit, shooting efficiency takes a step back, and while a player's descent has both hills and valleys, things never really go back to the way they once were.
Despite a significantly increased pace in Denver, Iguodala's rebounding and scoring numbers present a red flag for any team considering a long-term contract offer. His defensive rebounding rate was its lowest in four years despite the pace-induced increase in loose balls. While AI was once a darling of the whistle, garnering 7.3 free throw attempts at age 23, his decline at the line has been steady to just 3.4 attempts this season. While he was an 82% free throw shooter at 23, his 57% shooting in 2012-13 would have been the 14th worst performance in a Pistons jersey over the same period.
While the free throw shooting is particularly confounding, all of this comprises enough evidence to suggest that an age-related decline has begun. This evidence may not yet be conclusive. Part of AI's rebounding decline could be explained by more time at shooting guard. However, it would be one thing to consider signing Iguodala if there were no evidence at all. The existence of evidence alone should be a serious, sizable red flag that Detroit must weigh if they want to consider this player.
Why Should Detroit Worry About Iguodala's Decline?
Every move Detroit makes this summer (and next) should be made with a two-to-three year goal in mind. If the team makes the right decisions this summer, the Pistons could return to the playoffs for the first time in five years next spring. The goal should be to ride this momentum to a second-round target and the best-case potential of third-round contention in 2016. Every move Detroit makes today should be made with that goal in mind. Giving a 30-year-old, potentially declining player a back-loaded, 8-figure deal does not get the team to that goal. The most likely scenario is that the team is left with an insolvent salary profile by 2015, one without the flexibility to make final roster adjustments for playoff upgrades (see Wallace, Rasheed).
It's one thing to give an older player a short-term, above-average deal that is heavily unguaranteed. It's another to give core-player money to a player in decline, and Detroit should only expect both from Andre Iguodala. Detroit has been through this before, and the team is still climbing out of the whole it dug itself in free agency four years back.
Andre Iguodala is Expecting a Pay Day
Iguodala just gave up $16M in 2013-14 salary for a chance at one last large, long-term contract. He is eligible for a 4-year contract from the Pistons or other free agency suitors, or a five-year deal if he stays with Denver. If he signs with Detroit, the contract would last through age 33 with a starting salary likely between $10M and $12M per year.
To put this in context, Iguodala could be earning between $13M and $15M when both Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond are on their post-rookie, potentially max extensions. That leaves little else for the other two starting positions and a bench-- and Iguodala would be four years further declined than he is at present. With a young team that is still so far away from deep playoff potential, investing in diminishing returns now with a foundation-level contract would be a horrible mistake.
Andre Iguodala's Offense Does Not Fit in Detroit
Andre Iguodala has some very pronounced strengths, but his primary weakness is especially damaging in Detroit. As was shown in Denver this season, Andre Iguodala has a horribly inefficient shot away from the rim. His field goal shooting average of 45% belies his poor jump shot-- he shot an incredible 74% at the rim, but about 32% from everywhere else. Unfortunately, Iguodala attempted twice as many shots away from the hoop than he did from inside-- and it would likely be even worse in Detroit.
Iguodala would be starting next to two big men who have only one significant weakness to their pairing-- range. Both Monroe and Drummond do their best scoring inside the paint, and to facilitate this pairing Detroit needs range from every other guy in the starting lineup. Greg Monroe's passing can largely neutralize the spacing deficiencies that come from a short-range frontcourt by feeding these shooters and his partner Andre from the high post. Having Iguodala at either swing position not only removes one range option from the lineup, it complicates the scoring efforts of Detroit's two big men.
Iguodala, Drummond and Monroe are not scoring threats outside of the paint, which makes this combined unit easier to defend. That's six bodies in the paint, three scorers and three defenders, and this traffic complicates their own offense plus the cutting offense of the team's backcourt. Conversely, the fewer three point threats a team has, the easier the three-point scorers are to defend. Less three-point threats means fewer guys to focus on and fewer options of a guy getting lost and open on the perimeter.
This is all largely philosophical, but very basic at the same time. Andre Iguodala's shot locations and efficiency show that he can't get it done outside of the paint, and save for a poor 3-point shot, he's not much better than Greg Monroe has been from 3-to-23 feet. The more players you have who can only score in a tight space like that, the easier they are to defend. The less versatility an offense has, the easier its basic plays are to defend. Adding Andre Iguodala to the Detroit Pistons would further complicate the range issues that Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond cause, and it further weakens the perimeter shooting of Detroit's guards.
All of the Above Matters Less Elsewhere
Current playoff teams with a well-balanced offense and cap room to spare should not hesitate to consider signing Andre Iguodala. The situation in Detroit is different, as the team may still be several years away from winning a playoff series. By then, Andre Iguodala will have aged out of value and an unmanageable contract will remain. Teams that are hoping for a deeper playoff run next season and who aren't afraid of the luxury tax shouldn't share Detroit's concerns.
Other teams may feature a frontcourt with range that could fit well with Iguodala's style of play. Detroit's situation is a blessing by contrast, and not a weakness. To make the most of its only point of strength, Detroit must consider how to properly build around this unique frontcourt. When it comes to this free agent prospect, due to his age, his expected salary and his incompatibility with Monroe and Drummond, Detroit should avoid Andre Iguodala at any cost. Fine player, horrible fit.