How Andre Iguodala, Warriors chose 2022-23 return date vs. Magic

SAN FRANCISCO — The last NBA game Andre Iguodala appeared in was Game 6 of the 2022 NBA Finals when he replaced Andrew Wiggins for the final 62 seconds to celebrate with his Warriors teammates. The move by Steve Kerr was partly symbolic.

Iguodala was held to only 39 regular-season games for the 2021-22 campaign and just seven more in the playoffs. However, Kerr and Iguodala’s Warriors teammates were also raving about his immense value to the team, even from the sidelines. Then there was the big question: Is this for Iguodala?

Many speculated that Iguodala would go out on top after winning his fourth ring with the Warriors. He turns 39 years old later this month and has put together a career that can land him in the Hall of Fame. The Warriors wanted him back, and Iguodala officially signed a one-year contract for his 19th and final NBA season in late September.

Between Iguodala, the coaches and the Warriors’ training staff, the plan was always for Iguodala to sit for as long as needed to have him healthier for the second half of the season this time, as well as the playoffs. On Saturday, he’ll make his season debut after missing the first 39 games of the season with what was listed as “left hip injury management.”

So, how did Iguodala and the Warriors land on his return to come against the Orlando Magic at Chase Center?

“My feet feel good, because I’ve been wearing these shoes,” Iguodala joked in the middle of a New Balance debate. “That’s why, my feet started feeling well.”

In reality, everything goes back to Dr. Rick Celebrini. Without him, Iguodala might not be a Warrior right now.

The two were on the same page the moment Iguodala decided to come back for one more season. Celebrini, the Warriors’ director of sports medicine and performance, already had a plan mapped out for Iguodala. The plan sealed Iguodala’s decision.

And he has stayed in step with it the whole time.

“You know, I just stuck to the plan,” Iguodala said. “Rick had a plan all along. Just buying into that, he’s done an excellent job with that. … So, just bought into the plan.”

Kerr of course had to be on board with the decision and felt Iguodala could help the Warriors in the immediate future. The Warriors are 20-19, and each win matters that much more in the Western Conference standings. This is not a team that can wait to get a player up to speed.

Luckily for Kerr and the Warriors, that doesn’t seem to be the case. At least not from what Kerr has seen in practice and the handful of scrimmages Iguodala has been involved in.

Those reps made Kerr give the green light, too, and he was impressed with what he saw from the veteran.

“Well he’s such a freak athlete, he’s still in amazing condition,” Kerr said. “And then his brain is one of his most powerful assets. So he immediately steps on the floor and is kind of a step ahead of everybody in the game on both ends.

“It’s great to see him out there playing.”

The last two weeks is when the Warriors really knew Iguodala was on a path to make his return. Once he started scrimmaging, it was apparent that he was playing in a game that was right around the corner. How many minutes he can play is to be determined.

Iguodala will be on a minutes restriction, but Kerr did not go into detail about the starting point there. Everything is to be determined as far as Iguodala’s future availability. Perhaps that means no back-to-backs or even resting a few games and then playing one. Maybe he’s full-go.

As Kerr put it, the hardest thing to do for a player at Iguodala’s point of his career is to stack together games. Iguodala went all the way in and out of the gates last season, and quickly ran out of gas. The hope is, keeping his tank fresh will extend his expiration date.

On the court, Iguodala brings versatility offensively and defensively. He has a keen ability to make things easier for everyone else, and that should be a big boost to scorers like Jordan Poole as an extra ballhandler and even for his screening.

However Kerr envisions Iguodala’s role, the player himself summed it up by saying, “just being myself.” That certainly could mean helping Poole specifically as someone who has struggled mightily with turnovers recently. Poole is lightning-quick but can speed up the game too much at times. Iguodala knows how to control it and slow everything down.

“Hopefully,” Iguodala said when asked if he believes part of his role is relieving Poole of so much pressure. “I’m trying to get him easier shots. I know for a fact he enjoys being out there with myself and Draymond [Green]because our skill set is to facilitate, to help them, to make life easier for them.”

RELATED: Steph takes biggest rehab step yet since injuring left shoulder

The Warriors on Saturday are guaranteed to get Iguodala back on the court. Andrew Wiggins practiced with the team and is listed as probable after missing the last 15 games. Steph Curry on Friday participated in 5-on-5 and full contact for the first time since sustaining a left shoulder subluxation.

Everything is looking up in San Francisco.

Curry also was a major reason why Iguodala was willing to put a Warriors jersey on for one final season. He sure is happy to have his longtime friend back in the fold.

“It’s exciting, he’s put a lot of work in,” Curry said. “Knowing how interesting his offseason was in whether he was going to come back or not and once he made that decision, to get back with us and come to training camp and start his journey, every day he’s been grinding little by little, getting his conditioning right, getting his reps in.

“He looks great. He’s still doing Andre thing on both ends of the floor in the scrimmages we’ve had that I’ve seen him play. I’m excited for him to get out there. The rehab is tough and it’s boring, it’s isolated. For him, he’s not really managing anything other than getting his whole body right. So I’m sure he’s excited to just go hoop and just go enjoy what that means for him.”

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