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Barber: Andre Iguodala beat the system, and Heat beat Warriors 113-101

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SAN FRANCISCO - Zach Norvell Jr.? Jeremy Pargo? Juan Toscano- Anderson? Sheesh, you ignore the Warriors for a couple weeks, and by the time you get reacquainted, half the roster has turned over.

There was at least one familiar face in Monday night’s 113-101 loss to the Miami Heat, though. It’s just that Andre Iguodala was sitting on the wrong bench. He made his Chase Center debut in just his second game with his new team, the Heat.

It was jarring to see Iguodala, pillar of three NBA championships and MVP of the 2015 NBA Finals, in the comic-panel pink-on-aqua uniform of the Heat. He was never Golden State’s best player, but his versatility and on-court intelligence epitomized the team that controlled the league for five seasons. Warriors fans acknowledged as much before the game, rising for a standing ovation during a pregame video tribute to the small forward.

Iguodala’s appearance was a warm and fuzzy moment in a season that hasn’t presented many for the Warriors. It was also a statement on the NBA, and how the balance of power is shifting in favor of the players.

No one expected Iguodala to play for Miami this season, least of all the Warriors. They traded him to Memphis last July 7, part of the machinations designed to unload Kevin Durant and get something in return, namely D’Angelo Russell.

Iguodala had other ideas, though. He was 35 years old at the time of the trade. He had already enjoyed an illustrious career, perhaps a Basketball Hall of Fame career. He was deeply immersed in the tech industry and had come to love golf nearly as much as hoops.

In other words, Iguodala was in a rare position among professional athletes. He was in position to say “no.”

“I think everybody’s situation is different,” Iguodala said, addressing the media before Monday’s game. “You’re gonna have to assess all the moving parts of everyone’s individual situation.”

In Iguodala’s case, the moving parts assembled to form a clear picture. He would rather sit out a few months, or sit out the season, or maybe even retire, rather than play for a rebuilding team that seemed headed to nowhere in 2020.

It was an audacious move, and it stirred up resentment. I’m sure Iguodala will be persona non grata in Memphis for a while. And when the Grizzlies emerged as a surprisingly competitive team behind Rookie of the Year favorite Ja Morant, some of the team’s young players took exception, too.

“I cant wait til we find a way to trade him so we can play him and show him really what Memphis is about,” wing player Dillon Brooks tweeted on Feb. 3.

And if Iguodala could play hardball, so could the Grizzlies. They refused to buy out the veteran’s contract, forcing him to the sidelines for the first 3½ months of the season.

Iguodala filled his time by working out relentlessly (have you ever seen him?), logging hours for a tech company just blocks from Chase Center (“Every time I was walking to work, people kind of weirded out,” he said) and being a husband and father (“I got a two-year-old that’s got a great golf swing, so I’ve gotta caddy soon”).

In the end, though, Iguodala got what he wanted. Memphis found a surprise trade partner in the Heat, receiving Dion Waiters as the centerpiece of a three-team deal that also involved the Timberwolves. Iguodala gets to play for the current No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, alongside All-Stars Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler. Oh, and he managed to land a two-year, $30 million contract extension (though the Heat have a team option for 2020-21).

Iguodala hasn’t crowed once about the outcome. In fact, just the opposite. He has been quite coy on the subject.

“Don’t want to try to say I was using any leverage or trying to force anyone’s hands,” Iguodala said Monday. “I just made the most of my time. Looks like being patient helped me more than anything. So it wasn’t anything strategic or trying to outsmart anybody.”

He also said this: “You’re trying to work with them more than anything. I think that’s what I was trying to do. And my intentions were never to try to keep from playing with a particular set of basketball players. I think that could be miscommunicated throughout the process.”

Iguodala always has been a strange combination of candor and diplomacy. Sometimes he’s a complete riddle. But he can’t rewrite this one. He outsmarted everybody this year.

The question is: How are we supposed to feel about this? When I was a kid, sports didn’t work this way. Teams in every sport drafted, traded and cut players, and that was that. It was a great era to be a fan, because you could reliably expect your favorite athletes to stick around a while. It was a system that invested the players with little power.

That model has been under gradual assault for decades and has hugely accelerated in recent years, especially in the NBA. In this league, players like Durant, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard can more or less orchestrate their own movements. Iguodala just did something similar. Is that good or bad for the game?

To be honest, it’s an irrelevant question. That’s just the way it is, at least for players with the leverage to make it happen. And how could you blame them for exerting that leverage? It’s not like the teams are acting out of benevolence. Not even the Warriors, a franchise lauded for its welcoming culture. I mean, coach Steve Kerr and general manager Bob Myers had nothing but respect for Iguodala, but that didn’t stop them from trading him to NBA Siberia.

Iguodala talked about that event before Sunday’s game.

“I had a (Tony) Romo moment. I think I sniffed it out before it happened,” he said. “No, I’ve just been around the game for a while. You kind of see how things are played, and you see how a domino effect can happen. … It’s a business league. It’s a superstar league as well. So when certain things happen, then you’ve gotta be prepared for any type of move.”

And you have to fight back, to carve out as much of the pie as you can when you get the chance. Andre Iguodala got the chance, and he took it. Good for him. It’s no wonder Kerr calls Iguodala the smartest player he’s ever been around.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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