OAKLAND — The Golden State Warriors are a team that the most sought-after free agents have avoided for most of the last two decades, nothing more than loveable losers with a faithful following and an ambiguous name on the NBA map.
Maybe no more.
Owner Joe Lacob, general manager Bob Myers, assistant GM Kirk Lacob and coach Mark Jackson already had started the process of turning around the futile franchise with last season’s playoff run. The foursome saw the latest evolution when they met with free agent Andre Iguodala and his agent, Rob Pelinka, in his Los Angeles office on July 1 — the first day of free agency.
“Before we could say too much, he was telling us how much he admired our team, he admired our coach and our players,” Myers said. “We said, ‘Do we have to sell you on anything?”’ He said, ‘Look, I feel like this is the place I want to play.’ That moment was a transformative moment for our franchise.”
That new perception is finally reality.
The Warriors introduced Iguodala at the team’s downtown Oakland headquarters Thursday, nearly a week after he agreed to a four-year, $48 million deal despite more lucrative offers. Golden State believes Iguodala’s arrival puts the franchise on new footing, going from a stopping point for middling free agents to a desirable destination among the NBA’s most prized players.
Iguodala said he wanted to come to the Bay Area because he can connect with the franchise’s vision. He got a glimpse of that last season when the Warriors knocked out his Denver team in the first round of the playoffs.
The experience left Iguodala wanting to play with “smart big men” such as Andrew Bogut and David Lee, promising rookie Harrison Barnes and sharpshooters Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, whom he jokingly said is “like the second coming of Jesus Christ. He’s like the most loved man on earth right now.”
“I think they were missing one piece,” Iguodala said. “And hopefully I can be that piece to get that team to where we all want to be, which is to try and win a championship.”
Just the process of bringing Iguodala to Golden State showed the commitment from both sides.
The Warriors entered free agency with little wiggle room. Keeping their own free agents — Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, who inked deals with Cleveland and Sacramento, respectively — seemed improbable. Signing top-tier talent? Almost laughable.
Pelinka, who worked alongside Myers for years as an agent, approached the Warriors about Iguodala. At first, Myers never thought the Warriors could make a deal happen.
“He was looking at a team that was financially strapped with arguably no way to get him and saying, ‘I’d like to come play for you,”’ Myers said. “And that motivated us as an organization.”
After days of back-and-fourth phone calls, text messages and meetings, doubt started to creep in for both sides.
Iguodala also had other offers to consider, and some started to evaporate. The Sacramento Kings pulled a four-year, $52 million deal off the table. Denver made him a frontloaded five-year, $60 million offer, and the Dallas Mavericks also got into the mix.
Some of the delay was, in part, because a few teams were waiting on the most coveted free agent — Dwight Howard — to make a decision. Even Iguodala felt the frustration.
“I actually texted Dwight, ‘Yo, you’re messing me up,”’ he said.
Myers, who said the team always wanted Iguodala and not Howard, spent more than 16 hours working the phones on July 4 only to come up empty on a trade partner needed to clear salary cap space.
Finally on the morning of July 5, Myers found a solution about an hour before Iguodala had to make a decision to go elsewhere for fear of losing another guaranteed offer. Myers struck a deal to clear $24 million in salaries by sending Richard Jefferson, Andris Biedrins and Brandon Rush to the Utah Jazz along with four draft picks, which eventually became part of a three-team, sign-and-trade deal with Denver.
“This was a lesson in perseverance,” said Myers, sporting a new beard because he had no time to shave.
How Iguodala’s addition impacts the Warriors won’t be known until real games are played.
Iguodala, who helped the U.S. capture the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, spent his first eight years in the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers before spending last season with Denver. He has averaged 15.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists in his career and is almost certain to start at small forward.
All five starters — Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Lee and Bogut — will be back, meaning Barnes or Thompson will likely be coming off the bench. Myers referred to the roster as having “six starters” and said he’s eager to see how Jackson blends them all together.
For his part, Iguodala said playing time will not be a problem. He already calls many of the Warriors friends and said the team’s strong chemistry is what made it so attractive.
“I think we have high-IQ basketball players who all can have a huge impact on any team in the league,” Iguodala said. “Any five of those guys can be the man on the team or any team in the league.”
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP