Talked with David Lee’s agent Mark Bartelstein. He gave the credit for the Warriors’ acquisition of Lee to general manager Larry Riley and his staff. He said they were hard after Lee from the start of free agency and worked tirelessly through countless scenarious to make it work.
Bartelstein: “I tell my guys, ‘Pay attention to who wants you most, because that means something.’ … They persisted.”
So Riley, in the end, got his guy though the likes of Minnesota, Toronto, New Jersey and Phoenix were interested in Lee. After landing one of the top 10 free agents in this year’s class, which is considered the best ever, members of the Warriors’ front office are riding high from this trade. But most fans, judging by the social media outlets and comments on Warriors-related blogs, are down on this trade.
Which is the accurate perspective? Well, I’m stealing an idea from my colleague, TK. Here is the case for and against David Lee. You be the judge.
Before I get into it, the one thing you won’t see is salary. Why not? Because I’ve come to the realization that it’s overrated. To me, if Lee is good trade at $70 million over six years, he’s good at $80. Do you pass up the guy you feel you need for less than $2 million a year? Some players get overpaid, some are underpaid. That’s the name of the game. Period. And in this market, overpaid was the most likely. The fact is, no matter how you cut it, the Warriors are going to spend more than $58 million and less than $70 million. How you divy that up does not matter as much as the ability of the players you’re going to spend that $58-$70M on. You identify what you need, who you want, and the numbers fall into place. The Warriors were going to spend that money anyway. The question is not the money, but whether he was the guy the Warriors should have spent it on. That is what the following is about.
The Case FOR David Lee
* He automatically upgrades and solidifies the power forward spot. With Randolph, forward Brandan Wright and rookie Ekpe Udoh, that position was a question mark. Randolph, was up and down to begin with, was coming off ankle surgery. Wright hadn’t played since January ’08, and Udoh didn’t make it to summer league before landing on the injury list.
Lee has played 81 games each of the last three seasons, averaging 29.1/34.9/37.3 minutes per game during that stretch. He brings instant, reliable production. His last two seasons combined, he averaged 18.1 points and 11.7 rebounds. Last year, he was 14th in the NBA in PER rankings.
* He helps with a major problem for the Warriors: rebounding. The Warriors were last in rebounds per game (38.41), last in opponents rebounds per game (48.07), and therefore last in rebound differential (-9.65). Not only does Lee rebound, but he and a healthy Andris Biedrins could seriously improve Warriors rebounding
* He fits the Warriors style of play. His agent called it a perfect fit. He’s no Randolph, but Lee can move a little bit. He gets up and down the court. Plus he has some of the skills that allows him to operate away from the basket. He has a midrange game. I’m told he’s been working hard on developing his 3-point shot, too.
* He is a really good finisher around the basket. He’s not going to flush on anyone like Stoudemire flushed on Anthony Tolliver last year at Oracle. But he is adept at finishing in the lane with both hands. That gives PG Stephen Curry a good pick-and-roll partner, which is vital if Biedrins never gets back to form. Plus Lee, because of his developed jumper, can also pick-and-pop.
* Get some veteran experience with shelflife. What I mean by that is they got a veteran who isn’t on the tail end of his career. Lee will be starting his sixth season in November, just like Monta. He’s not too young, not too old.
* Does a lot of the little things that go a long way. Loose balls. Charges. Solid screens. Always hustling.
* Added Lee without sacrificing the ability to add more. The Warriors got the guy they coveted, without compromising ability to make another move. Warriors still have mid-level exception. Still have $13M in expiring contracts. Still have depth in backcourt. Either could help land the small forward they need.
* Able to keep Monta Ellis. With the development of Curry and the addition of a reliable scorer, Ellis doesn’t need to carry such a big load on offense and may be more efficient for it. Bartelstein said because the Warriors were able to add Lee and keep their best players, like Ellis, Curry and Biedrins, that the Warriors are now a playoff team.
* The Warriors got some kind of return on their lottery pick. Even Randolph supporters have to admit his success wasn’t a guarantee. His detractors believe it was a good chance Randolph would never reach his potential. Some think its a good thing that the Warriors got something for him now instead of finding out later he wouldn’t pan out. What if Randolph’s attitude problem wasn’t all Nellie’s fault? What if he never overcame turnover issues, struggle with knowing where to be on the court?
* He’s a good guy. (This is last for a reason). After experiencing locker room drama with Stephen Jackson, Baron Davis and Al Harrington, the Warriors have been consistent about their desire to have good guys. With so many young guys, namely Curry, they emphasize veterans who are positive and productive in the locker room. From all accounts, Lee is a model NBA player in that regard.
The Case AGAINST David Lee
* He cost them Randolph. There is a reason so many teams wanted Randolph. He has the potential to be a star. He showed that just about every time he got significant minutes. I’m not a fan of making deals based on PR moves, so that fans liked him is fairly trivial to me. But Randolph was a super talented player who is a good situation away from being a perennial All-Star, maybe even All-NBA candidate. And Randolph hasn’t even turned 21 yet.
Check out this comparison I cribbed off a Warriors fan who posted this on Twitter:
Lee at age 22: 5.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 0.6 assists
Randolph at age 20: 11.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.5 assist
To be sure, Lee was in his rookie year at 22 and Randolph was in his 2nd year at 20. And Randolph averaged some five minutes more per game in the years being compared. But hard to argue with how early in his maturation as a player Randolph was producing.
* Getting Lee hurt Warriors defensively. Was talking with someone who knows basketball and Lee’s game. He said don’t hold your breath waiting on Lee to protect the basket. Lee doesn’t have the athleticism, toughness to defend the beast PFs in the West (two of which are now in the East). He is widely regarded as a poor defender.
Not only that, but the Warriors arguably gave up their three best defenders to get him. I know his health was uncertain after major knee surgery, but Azubuike was their most versatile, if not best, defender. Turiaf was the team’s best pure shot blocker. Randolph was close behind, plus had the tenacity to for the task. Certainly, the Warriors added Ekpe Udoh, a defensive big, so that might lessen the blow (if and when he’s healthy). But their starting five is worse defensively at this point.
* Lee has peaked or close to peaked as a player. I will start this by acknowledging I haven’t seen much of Lee, and most of what I’ve seen has been on TV. But from talking to people, one of the concerns about Lee is that he is who is going to be. At 27 years old, he is at the very least entering the prime of his career. Plus, he is not physically dominant, which makes it harder to build on your game. Whereas Randolph could develop so many things because of his athleticism, length and skillset, I’ve been told Lee doesn’t have such prospectus. Personally, I find it hard to believe a player can’t get better. If you work hard, you’ll get better just by virtue of experience. But I’ve heard this from multiple people and I get what they mean. When you sign David Lee, you sign him for what he gives you now. So what you pay him $11 million for now, you will get four years from now, but for a few million more.
* Warriors still have major holes. Going into free agency, general manager Larry Riley said small forward was his biggest need. That and a big man who could score inside, rebound and defend bigs. It seems like the $80 million deal would’ve been better spent going to get an All-Star caliber small forward. You could make the case that the Warriors are better going someone like Andre Iguodala or Josh Smith or Luol Deng and keeping Randolph at PF (with Wright) than getting Lee at PF with Reggie Williams/Anthony Morrow/Mid-level exception guy at small forward. Of course, that all depends on one of the top-notch SFs being available, which may have not been the case. This knock against Lee is moot if the Warriors get somebody pretty good with the mid-level or if they use some of the aforementioned pieces to get the beast they need at small forward.
There you have it. Both sides of the ledger.