Lots of buzz surrounds the Grizzlies heading into the 2019-2020 season given the offseason moves that has brought in an infusion of exciting young talent. However the biggest storyline in Memphis right now deals with the 35 year-old Andre Iguodala. After being jettisoned from the Warriors in a salary cap-clearing trade, Iguodala has expressed his desire to be waived in order to play for a title contender – which the Grizzlies are not. It is easy to understand the perspective of the 2016 Finals MVP who spent the last six years with Golden State, playing in five NBA Finals and winning three. However, it is equally understandable as to why Memphis would rather keep Iguodala, rather than just simply release him.
For one, despite the fact that Iguodala’s minutes and points hit career lows last season, he remains an extremely productive contributor off the bench, bringing quality defense and rebounding. Moreover, he understood his role well as evidenced by a career-high 50% field goal percentage. He is also said to be a great teammate and locker room leader, the likes of which any championship team thrives upon. All of this comes together to highlight just how valuable Iguodala could be to the Grizzlies come the February trade deadline. Add in the fact that the 15-year veteran would be serving as a role model to the futures of the franchise in Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., Iguodala is clearly more than just a draft-pick asset.
So, is there a way out for Iguodala? There are rumors that this may be his final NBA season and he wants control of his destiny. Meanwhile, Memphis apparently is “refusing” to buyout his contract and wants him to show up to training camp so the two sides are at a standstill. Just ten years ago, the answer likely would have been an emphatic “NO,” but a lot has changed in such time. Gone are the days when players felt emotionally and now, even contractually beholden to a team. Ever since “The Decision,” the control a player has over their own destiny has boosted substantially. This is due in part to changes in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that was introduced in 2017 that included a Designated Veteran contract.
The contract permits players between seven and nine years of service time to sign a contract worth 35% of the salary cap if those players reached certain criteria, such as making All-NBA Teams. While this allows a given team to offer the most lucrative max contract to its own player, it also inflates the price tag a team may have to assign a player to represent a competitive offer. The end result has placed more power in the hands of the player, especially those veterans who are a year or two away from reaching free agency. Teams must decide if they want take on the risk of losing a player to free agency who they are unsure will resign and in doing so, lose them for essentially nothing; or trade that player with a year or two remaining in their contract for other talent or draft picks, ensuring that they receive some return on the player’s value.
This understanding of the shift in control has motivated some stars in the league to make their free agency intentions known to the team, often times in hopes of being sent to a better team or preferred location. In turn, this has produced numerous trades that many would have previously been considered unthinkable like a team trading away someone of Paul George or Anthony Davis’ caliber. Other stars have flat out drove their way out, either by ruining rapport with teammates or management (see: Kyrie Irving) or simply refusing to play (see: Kawhi Leonard). In any case, stars now have a greater avenue in forcing a general manager’s hand and can often do so with considerable success.
That brings us back to Andre Iguodala. While he is greatly respected throughout the league, he does not possess “star power” at this point in his career, much less will he be offered a max contract any time soon. However, he may still be able to wriggle his way away from the Grizzlies within the confines of the CBA.
The agreement states various reasons in which a team may discipline a player, included among them are missing practices and more importantly, “failure to report following a trade.” In this circumstance, the penalty is at the discretion of the league and the player’s team. If Iguodala is steadfast in his desire to play on a contender, this is likely his most effective route in doing so. Considering the fact that Iguodala has netted over 140 million dollars worth of contracts in his career, the fines for his failure to report would be minimal. Memphis likely would not want the headache, storylines, and cap hit associated with a dragged out dispute especially as the first season under a new coach unfolds, so there is a chance that they decide to move on from Iguodala altogether.
However, there is also the risk that the league and the Grizzlies make an example out of Iguodala, because his situation is markedly different from the other mentioned above: Iguodala may consider not reporting because of not liking a team he was traded to, instead of already on, like many of the successful cases. A better comparison is the way in which Jimmy Butler was traded from the under-achieving Timberwolves last season after being acquired just the season before. His frustration with the environment in Minnesota was publicly known, specifically his question of Karl-Anthony Towns’ and Andrew Wiggins’ desire. He requested a trade, skipped practices and preseason games, culminating in the infamous scrimmage, which represented the final straw in deciding to trade Butler.
It was a messy situation, the likes of which Iguodala isn’t likely to want to entrench himself in as the Vice President of the NBA player’s association, especially if this is truly his last season. Moreover, if Iguodala wants to be traded to a contender, it wouldn’t hurt to build goodwill with the management on his way out the door and potentially have some say in where he would like to go. So, I would imagine that a compromise will be made that can benefit both parties – something along the lines of the Grizzlies agreeing to be active in finding trade partners, while also clearing any deal involving Iguodala by him. In exchange, the veteran will be expected to buy into the Vince Carter-mentorship role to some degree, while hopefully boosting his trade value at the same time. If all goes well, I would expect the Grizzlies to trade Iguodala after the first 20-30 games, presumably for a 1st round pick to a contender of his liking (Lakers, maybe?). This is the trade within the trade and should result in both sides mostly getting what they want, without having to tangle themselves in an ugly tug-of-war in the headlines.