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Riley: Heat studied Iguodala, believes he's still 'elite'

MIAMI, Fla. – In deciding whether to pursue a trade for Andre Iguodala, the Miami Heat went all-in on research. They talked to people who knew Iguodala. They watched what he did last season. They took a deep dive into the analytics.

And they came to a determination.

“He’s elite,” Heat President Pat Riley said.

Simple as that. That’s why Iguodala is now in Heat colors, and a team that wasn’t even good enough to make the playoffs last season is thinking big as it gears up for a run at the 2020 postseason. Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill all joined the team for a game-day shootaround practice in Sacramento on Friday to get their first taste of what life with the Heat is like.

“He's an elite defender, an elite team defender, elite assist-to-turnover percentage, he ranks up into the top of those areas that are real tangible,” Riley said. “You don't lose that in seven months. And probably it was a blessing in disguise that he didn't play for seven months.

Iguodala last played an NBA game in June, when he scored 22 points in the last game of last season’s NBA Finals. He was traded by Golden State to Memphis in early July, and never played for the Grizzlies while waiting to be moved elsewhere — that start of what became a seven-month process.

“I still like I feel like I still have a lot of time left,” the 36-year-old Iguodala told reporters in Sacramento after the shootaround. “I surprised myself just taking the time off and seeing how bouncy my legs got to be. Once the body started recovering a little bit better. Now it's just about finding NBA game shape. It's hard to really practice that. It shouldn't take too much time."

Iguodala was the 2015 NBA Finals MVP and went to each of the last five title series as part of the Golden State Warriors. The Heat haven’t been to the finals since 2014, missed the playoffs in three of the last five years and went into this past offseason without a retired Dwyane Wade and with no cap space to sign free agents.

That didn’t stop them. They landed Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade with Philadelphia, hit on their assessments of rookies Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro, watched Bam Adebayo develop into an All-Star, are getting Sixth Man of the Year-level contributions from Goran Dragic in his new off-the-bench role, and saw immense improvement from Derrick Jones Jr. and Duncan Robinson — beneficiaries of the team’s constant commitment to development.

And now they add Iguodala to a team that’s already off to a 34-16 start, firmly in the race for home-court in the first round of the playoffs.

“I think what it says is that we really feel that this group has earned the right to really make this all about now,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And we're bringing in three veteran players that have a lot of experience. Andre obviously bringing championship pedigree, somebody who has played in so many big moments ... that championship experience is invaluable. You can't put a price on it."

Crowder said he noticed how the Heat were playing on opening night, when Memphis lost to Miami. He didn’t like the outcome so much, though liked what he saw.

“It just feels like they're having fun with it,” Crowder said in Sacramento. “They're playing very hard, a very competitive group. I just want to add on to that. I'm a competitor. I like to win. I like to do whatever it takes to win. I'm here to have fun and get some wins."

Hill said it’s no secret what the Heat are shooting at.

“They have championship inspirations,” Hill said. “You're talking about a prestigious franchise that has done it. And the leadership of this ship has done it multiple times.”

The leader of that ship is Riley, a nine-time champion overall and a three-time titlist with the Heat. He makes no secret about it: the trade was done with eyes on getting closer to contending for yet another ring. The Heat got some cap room in this trade as well, which opens up the buyout market this season. They’ll have more money than expected this coming summer, then enough to add a max player to the mix in 2021.

They are trending the right way again.

“A lot of good things have happened,” Riley said. “And we hope they continue to happen.”

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