YOU HAVE TO ACCEPT that the Sixers will not just give Andre Iguodala away - not simply to free themselves of the remaining years of his contract, or simply create more minutes for rookie Evan Turner, or simply satisfy a certain segment of the fan base.

President Rod Thorn reiterated that point when he said on Sunday that it is extremely difficult for a team to give away good talent without getting talent in return.

Obviously, things can change, and, if a reasonable offer for Iguodala comes by the Feb. 24 trade deadline, Thorn might make a deal.

So let's operate from the standpoint that Iguodala is staying in South Philadelphia.

That being the case, it would truly benefit the Sixers if Iguodala fully embraced his newly designated role as "point forward," team conductor, and squad leader - not with words but with consistent performance.

It's a lot to ask any player to be, on a game-by-game basis, what Iguodala was in Sunday's victory, but doing so is what separates the great players from the good to very good ones.

"I'm going to start using [Iguodala] more as a point forward, because I think he's a triple-double guy," Sixers coach Doug Collins said on Monday, the day after Iguodala had 24 points with seven assists and four steals while playing lockdown defense against Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony.

Collins knows "point forwards."

He coached two of the greatest in NBA history - former Chicago Bull Scottie Pippen and former Detroit Piston Grant Hill - through the infancies of their careers.

So it is not on a "wing and a prayer" if he decides Iguodala is capable of thriving in that role and elevating the Sixers with him.

If you trust Collins - and, considering what he already has accomplished with this team, I don't see how you cannot - then this really comes down to Iguodala.

Regardless of what his detractors say, Iguodala is a very good basketball player. He has flaws, but his skills put him a lot closer to being an All-Star-caliber player than just another nice NBA player.

Iguodala's biggest fault has been his unwillingness or inability to take ownership of the Sixers as his franchise.

Too often, he's talked like "the man," but without displaying the characteristics and actions to back it up.

For the first 2 years of his career, Iguodala, as would be expected, played second fiddle to the original A.I. - Allen Iverson.

But when Iverson was traded in December 2006 to the Denver Nuggets, it was expected that Iguodala would step into the role of team leader.

Statistically, Iguodala raised his game, but for the next three seasons there was no doubt point guard Andre Miller, acquired in the Iverson deal, ran the Sixers.

Any progress Iguodala could have made last season was halted by the enthusiasm-sapping reign of coach Eddie Jordan.

But now, with Collins, Iguodala has a proven teacher who has taken the time to assess his game and come up with a course of action to benefit team and player the most.

You have to appreciate the way Collins has handled this.

On the day he was hired, he straight-out said that when Iguodala plays "two" guard, he is "out of position." But despite saying Iguodala was a small forward, Collins didn't just snatch him out of the role in which he had been pigeonholed in his entire career.

Young players are prideful, and simply moving Iguodala to the "three" position could have been met with resistance. It could have been taken as an indication of failure.

Instead, Collins started the season with Iguodala at the "two."

He then gradually transitioned his role. He was often a "two" playing like a "three."

On Dec. 3, Collins put Jodie Meeks into the starting rotation as "two" guard and officially shifted Iguodala to small forward.

The Sixers, who started the season 5-13, have gone 16-13 since.

It's been step-by-step.

After Iguodala got into his teammates about blowing yet another fourth-quarter lead Friday in a loss to Memphis, Collins gave him primary fourth-quarter ballhandling responsibilities against Denver.

Now, by telling Iguodala he is his "point forward," by saying he sees in him the things he saw when he coached Pippen and Hill, Collins is offering him ownership of this franchise again.

It took Collins 8 months to get Iguodala to the role he knew he wanted him to play from the beginning.

But the patient, organic approach was the way to go. Iguodala has arrived here through a natural process.

He has seen through game experience, through trial-and-error and growing success that this is the best role for him.

Collins simply could have told Iguodala he was going to be his "point forward," but it was better to show him why he should want to embrace that position.

Now, it is on Iguodala to take the next step.

How he played and led the Sixers against Denver is what he must do consistently over the final 35 games of the regular season.

He has been offered this mantle before. It's a leadership role the Sixers have desperately wanted Iguodala to fulfill.

It's something that, for whatever reason, he has shied away from. It can't be that way this time. *

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