Two of the highest-paid Warriors, with more than 20 years of combined NBA experience including multiple All-Star appearances, have been thrust back into the spotlight after a season that relegated them to the smallest roles of their careers.
In Iguodala’s case, he still had a role, but it was a seemingly diminished one. Coming off the bench for the first time in his NBA career, he was asked to step back so Harrison Barnes could grow and flourish.
Through it, Iguodala has been the sage leader of the Warriors second unit all season. Meanwhile, his minutes have been limited, he was able to rest, and save his strength for when he would really be needed — a championship run.
Lee has walked a rougher road. Injury kept him out early in the season and young, rising Draymond Green replaced him. As Green soared, it became clear that Lee would not see much playing time.
With little-to-no resistance, the two former All-Stars moved from their starting roles to the bench, setting the precedent that sacrifices will have to be made in order to win.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said a series of conversations with Iguodala in training camp set in motion the chain of events:
“I don’t think he was thrilled, but he understood my reasoning. I explained what I was thinking, and, to his credit, he accepted it immediately. I thought it set a tone for our team from the beginning. A sacrifice.”
Arguably though, nobody has sacrificed more than Lee. He not only gave up his starting role, but essentially his entire roster spot.
Now, the two Warriors are focal points in the NBA Finals.
After Game 3, Lee spoke with media in the post-game press conference room for the first time this post-season and was clamored after with questions from reporters for the first time in months.
The Warriors lost, but a fourth quarter push, in large part due to Lee proved that he is still relevant and important.
Kerr said Lee has been supportive all year and added that he has repeatedly told Lee his moment would come:
“David’s been fantastic. Just keeping his spirits up and supporting the team, and we kept talking all year about ‘your time is going to come. Stay with it.’ He believed it and he stayed with it and he’s making a big impact.”
Iguodala is making a huge impact as well. He has been tasked with one of the tallest orders in the NBA — being the primary defender of LeBron James.
Though James has put up big numbers, the series is tied 2-2 and the Warriors maintain home court advantage. Kerr says Iguodala is a main cog in the defense:
“He’s been our best player through four games. He guards LeBron pretty much every possession that he’s out there, and his offense has been terrific.”
Down 2-1, Golden State had to change something. Kerr shocked the Cavs when he yanked Andrew Bogut out of the starting lineup and played Iguodala instead, relying on minutes from Lee, speeding up the game, spacing the floor and ultimately winning Game 4.
Lee, after not playing in eight of 19 postseason games, is shooting over 63 percent and has put up 20 points in 28 minutes. Iguodala is averaging 14.8 points against the Cavaliers and had a 22-point, team-high performance after being inserted into the starting lineup.
Green told SFBay he’s not surprised by the two sacrificing veterans becoming keys for the Warriors down the stretch because they are the guys who continue to show the team what it means to be a professional athlete:
“One thing I call those guys is they’re a pro’s pro. When Coach Kerr inserted me into the starting lineup, David never mumbled a word about it. He never gave up on me. He never stopped supporting me. And whenever his number’s called he goes out and goes hard. Same thing with Andre … They’re two of the longest tenured NBA players on our team, and they act like it. That’s why this team has been successful this year because of guys like that, willing to sacrifice, but yet staying ready.”
Perhaps it’s not a coincidence. Like waiting vipers ready to strike, the two most experienced and most willing to sacrifice are releasing their venom at just the right time.