By David Aldridge, TNT analyst
In a series of moves Friday, the Golden State Warriors vastly strengthened their team in the short run by agreeing to terms with free agent forward Andre Iguodala on a four-year deal worth $48 million, while also keeping alive the possibility of pulling off what seemed the longest of long shots at the start of the week — getting Lakers free agent center Dwight Howard.
The Warriors cleared room for Iguodala Friday by trading the expiring contracts of center Andris Bierdins, Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush to Utah, along with multiple Draft picks, including an unprotected 2014 first-round pick, to the Utah Jazz, who would send swingman Kevin Murphy back to Golden State.
The Jazz will have to renounce their rights to free agent forward Paul Millsap to make the deal work under the league’s cap rules. The deal cannot be consummated until July 10, when the NBA’s moratorium on offseason deals is lifted.
Even if Golden State doesn’t get Howard, bringing in the 29-year-old Iguodala, a member of last summer’s U.S. Olympic team and one of the premier wing defenders in the game, makes this offseason a bountiful one.
Iguodala said by telephone Friday that going to the Warriors, who upset his Nuggets in the first round and played a tough six-game series against the Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals, presented an opportunity for him to compete for a ring next season. He had turned down a four-year, $52 million offer from the Sacramento Kings earlier in the week, but was still entertaining offers from his former team, the Denver Nuggets.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Iguodala said. “I’m trying to win a championship. The biggest thing on my list when I was talking to teams is, how can I carry on my career in the NBA, and complete my legacy as a player?”
The Warriors would have had ample cap room next summer to go after the likes of LeBron James if they had just let their expiring contracts lapse. But the opportunity to make a splash this summer proved irresistible, especially after their meeting with Howard Monday went extremely well. Howard, according to a source, indicated that he intended to leave the Lakers, and that he was intrigued by the opportunity in Golden State. And after Iguodala turned down offers from both Sacramento and Denver, Golden State made its play.
The Nuggets, according to a source, never believed that Iguodala’s return was a lock. But after Iguodala didn’t commit to the team’s offer of a four-year deal worth $52 million guaranteed, with incentives that could have pushed the deal to $60 million, the writing was on the wall.
Howard, of course, has yet to announce where he will sign. The Rockets still appear to have the best chance to sign him, though one would be foolhardy to suppose that the famously indecisive Howard had officially ruled out returning to Los Angeles or going to Golden State or Dallas. A Twitter post earlier Friday by the Orange County Register that Howard had made his decision was walked back a few minutes later.
At the least, the Warriors’ chances of getting Howard’s commitment are bolstered by getting Iguodala in place, giving Howard the certainty of playing with at least two frontline players — Iguodala and Stephen Curry — if he comes there.
Utah did the deal to maintain cap flexibility the next couple of years, giving it a chance to make trades and continue to build through the Draft — a scenario bolstered by picking up a second first-rounder in what is supposed to be an extremely deep and talented 2014 Draft class — while also giving extensive playing time to both of its young big men, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. The Jazz lost big man Al Jefferson to the Charlotte Bobcats this week after Jefferson committed to a three-year deal worth $40.5 million.
Utah also believes that Rush, coming off an ACL injury, could be a part of its long-term future, giving the team an option at shooting guard along with third-year player Alec Burks.
Moving the combined $24 million in salaries that Bierdins, Jefferson and Rush will make next season cleared the way for Golden State to be able to sign Iguodala. But the All-Star was also swayed by the presence of Warriors head coach Mark Jackson.
“Mark Jackson does an incredible job with his players, in terms of getting the most out of them,” Iguodala said. “I feel like I fit right in. I think me and Harrison Barnes are going to be one of the best wing combos in the league. And Steph Curry, he’s one of the most popular players in the league right now. They’re going to push me; I’m going to push them.”
The Warriors tried to assuage the feelings of incumbent center Andrew Bogut all day Friday, assuring him that he was not being shopped as part of the campaign to get Iguodala. Yet no one could say with certainty Friday that the Warriors were abandoning their hopes of getting Howard, though their only avenue for getting him after the Utah deal would be to include Bogut, along with at least one of their young stars, like Barnes or guard Klay Thompson, as part of a package to the Lakers in a potential sign-and-trade deal.
The Lakers had indicated that they wouldn’t do any sign-and-trade deals for Howard, preferring to keep the salary cap room that would be created after he departed as a free agent. But ESPN.com, citing sources, reported Thursday night that the Lakers were softening that stance, and might be willing to get something for Howard rather than nothing.
For his part, Iguodala feigned ignorance about Howard’s intentions.
“I don’t know what Dwight’s doing,” he said. “He kept me on hold on the phone for a while…but Dwight’s my man. I’m cool with him. I’m sure he’s taking time with his decision, which he’s earned after all the work he’s put in. If he comes to Golden State as well, it’s going to be even scarier.”