Latest on David Lee
David Lee doesn't work in Golden State. He has career averages of 15 points and 10 rebounds, but his ball-dominating play in the post and lackluster defense won't fly in the Warriors' system that emphasizes movement and versatility, things that won them the 2015 NBA championship.
Last year, the solution was to bench him. After returning from an injury, Lee played 49 games after playing 69 the season before (and starting 67 of those). While he briefly contributed in the NBA Finals, Lee's $15.5 million expiring deal is a lot to pay a guy for spot minutes every now and then.
With a full summer ahead to find a suitor, Golden State will attempt to trade the big man. If the Warriors get anything back, it'll be minimal -- a future second-round pick or the rights to some obscure European prospect no one has ever heard of. The cap relief that dealing him out will provide is worth it.
Here's a few realistic places Lee could go. It loosely goes from "most likely" to "least likely."
The "we lost our starting power forward" category
LaMarcus Aldridge took off to sign in San Antonio and he was only one part of a mass exodus from the Oregon area. Wes Matthews signed in Dallas; Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo jumped ship to the Knicks; and Nicolas Batum was traded to Charlotte. Now the Blazers are left with a hole at power forward and cap space.
Portland knows this is the start of another rebuild, but someone still has to play minutes. If Golden State is truly shopping Lee for nothing in return, it could take him on and fill that hole.
To Milwaukee Greg Monroe went, taking a three-year max contract after the Pistons decided not to give him one. If Detroit didn't want Monroe, we can probably deduce that it'll shy away from Lee as well, considering they have similar traits for a similar price. Detroit also drafted power forward Stanley Johnson with the No. 8 overall pick, signaling its plans for the future at that position. However, if the Pistons decide Johnson is a year away and could use a veteran mentor like Lee for one year, they have the cap space and the minutes to take him from Golden State.
The "we missed on everybody else" category
The Lakers did pull off a trade that is expected to bring Roy Hibbert in to play center for the rebuilding franchise, and Julius Randle is the team's future at power forward, but the Lakers could swing a deal to bring Lee in if they felt like they needed more firepower next season. Given Hibbert's arrival, this seems less likely now.
New York Knicks
Give Phil Jackson and his front office credit: $10 million to Derrick Williams aside, they made a number of small but solid moves to add talent across the board. They failed to nab a big name, but Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo and Kyle O'Quinn are a solid start to becoming relevant again. With O'Quinn's signing, and also considering their draft pick was Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks are probably out on Lee. However, given the fact that he spent the first five seasons of his NBA career there, it's probably premature to totally rule it out.
The "we'll take him if you take our not-quite-as-bad contract" category
Channing Frye is an immensely useful player if you use him correctly. Orlando is not using him correctly and he averaged seven points on sub-40 percent shooting for them last year. At Golden State, he would play sparingly but when he got on the court -- h'ohboy, he would get so many open three-point looks. Oh, man. Please don't do this, Orlando. Don't give the Warriors MORE shooters.
In all seriousness, Frye has two years left on his deal and the money actually declines, paying him $7.8 million next season and $7.4 million the year after. The Warriors wouldn't get long-term cap relief (since they'll end up paying about the same amount of money to Frye over two years as they'll pay Lee next season), but they save money next year and gain a more useful bench player suited for their playing style. (In this scenario, Orlando has the cap space the swallow the yearly money difference.)
After losing O'Quinn, the Magic's only real power forward is Andrew Nicholson and Frye, although Tobias Harris will often play big at the four. Orlando needs to get better at defense and Lee isn't ideal for that, but there's worse ways for the Magic to plug a hole for just one year with a veteran.
The Celtics somehow acquired Gerald Wallace, who has $10.1 million left on that ridiculous deal the Nets signed him to in 2012. (Seriously, Brooklyn, didn't we tell you this was a poor decision?) Lee, as previously stated, is being paid $15.5 million. If the Warriors can't find any other suitors and still want some cap relief, Lee for Wallace nets them savings of a few million.
Unfortunately, the Celtics are close enough to the cap that they'll probably need to add another player (Kelly Olynyk?) to squeeze Lee in underneath the limit, so the savings won't quite be $5.4 million like it initially seems. Boston also recently signed Amir Johnson, but most of their depth is in the backcourt and Lee could actually form a rather effective pairing with Johnson if put at center.
If Golden State could swing an asset out of this trade, even if the salary cap relief is less than hoped, this is a plausible deal for the two sides.
David Lee is likely on the move before the NBA season starts in late October. Perhaps one of those teams could swing for him, or perhaps it's someone not even on the list. Lee is still a valuable player for most NBA teams in the right situation, but the last year in Golden State has certainly hurt his perception around the league to an extent.
If nothing else, it's the right thing for the Warriors to do. Let Lee go free and help someone somewhere else. He's clearly not needed in Golden State anymore.
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