The Golden State Warriors want to be championship contenders—now.
The future is glowing for the lottery team turned Western Conference playoff darlings, but ownership understands what it takes to move from feel-good success to an actual title.
It might take moving the team’s only All-Star, David Lee.
The Warriors could choose to stand pat on a season that included a No. 6 seed and a first-round upset against the Denver Nuggets, or they could use this offseason as an opportunity to add an elite superstar.
The Warriors impressed basketball nation these past playoffs via the shooting of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and the standout play of rookie Harrison Barnes.
Not pictured, however, was Lee, the team’s only All-Star since 1997. Lee went down with a torn hip flexor in Game 1 against the Nuggets before making spot returns here and there through injury.
At the time of the injury, it seemed the Warriors would be finished. Without their All-Star, how could they handle a Nuggets team that had just take a 1-0 series lead? But instead, the Warriors rallied with a smaller lineup that included Barnes at power forward.
They won, they looked fantastic as a team and Lee was missing from it all.
Some local scribes, such as columnist Tim Kawakami, even wrote that Golden State was better without Lee. Kawakami cited that the Warriors without Lee were a better defensive team, had more space in the lane for Andrew Bogut and were able to give more shots to outside shooters Curry and Thompson.
Kawakami’s voice on the issue wasn’t alone, as comments of similar sentiment popped up elsewhere and were rebuked by Lee supporters. The conversation made for good sports talk fodder.
But as the team moves forward following the unforeseen postseason run, it’s the job of general manager Bob Myers to build this team for the future.
Could moving Lee improve the Warriors' overall roster?
The Warriors can sit and develop talent, or they can embrace the urgency of a small title window and strike now. Other teams around the league will look to improve this summer, and the Warriors’ desired push to the next level may not come by simply waiting around.
Golden State already proved it's ready to shake it up for something big when the team met with Dwight Howard on Monday to try and pitch him the thought of taking his center talents to Oakland.
From Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group:
According to sources, the Warriors are willing to offer Andrew Bogut along with Klay Thompson or Harrison Barnes. But the sell is to lure Dwight Howard with the prospect of a loaded lineup that features Curry, Thompson AND Barnes. The Warriors could trade Bogut and the expiring contracts of Richard Jefferson or Andris Biedrins to give the Lakers major cap relief heading into next offseason. Golden State, which can only sign Howard via sign-and-trade, believes that is the best offer Los Angeles will receive.
Here’s Curry and Howard working out together on Monday:
If they are willing to detach from their future in an up-and-coming shooter like Thompson or the rapidly enhancing game of Barnes, than Lee should definitely be seen as a dispensable piece.
Reports of shopping Lee surfaced Monday when Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported the Warriors are exploring trade opportunities for the power forward. Wojnarowski reported that Lee had already been shopped to the Portland Trail Blazers for LaMarcus Aldridge and to the Toronto Raptors for Andrea Bargnani.
For the Warriors, Lee is obviously valuable both on the offensive end of the court and as a veteran leader in the clubhouse. He is well liked by his teammates and team decision-makers.
But Lee also hurts their flexibility in trying to add game-changing talent.
Lee is owed another three years and $44 million on his contract, and he averaged 18.5 points on 51.9 percent shooting and 11.2 rebounds. He’s a rebounder with the ability to score creatively in the post and with his mid-range shot. He is not a defender. And he's 30 years old.
It isn’t easy to find trade mates interested in taking on a contract that pays $13.87 million in 2013-14 and $15 million-plus for each of the two years following that.
The Warriors would either have to pair Lee with one of their young stars as incentive or take on an equally bad contract in return. If Golden State can find a big fish, Lee’s contract and the upside of a player like Barnes could become a deal.
The problem is that there are few tradeable elite players that make the Warriors better and less financially committed. The best power big man options—Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, David West, Andrew Bynum—would need to be acquired through a sign-and-trade, and Lee wouldn’t be enough to get back in return.
For the sake of exploring what type of scenarios could exist, here are some potential trade fits for Lee (all deals run through ESPN’s Trade Machine for accuracy):
Lee and Barnes to the Milwaukee Bucks for Ersan Ilyasova, Drew Gooden, Ekpe Udoh
Giving up on Barnes is a tough sell, but Ilyasova’s player efficiency rating of 18.37 and a contract that reaches a height of just $8.4 million in 2016-17 is a nice piece.
Sending Barnes entices the Bucks to take on Lee's contract and provides Milwaukee with an rising star player.
Lee and Barnes to the Sacramento Kings for DeMarcus Cousins, Marcus Thornton
The Sacramento Kings gain one of the league’s bright young wings and an All-Star in Lee while the Warriors gain a guy who could become one of the game’s best centers.
Big men take longer to develop, and the Warriors’ locker room is the right fit to lead Cousins in the right direction. Thornton is overpaid as a primary shooter, but he becomes the Warriors' sixth man in a spot that used to belong to Jarrett Jack.
The problem here is that Cousins has obvious on-court behavior issues that could mess with the Warriors' chemistry, and losing Barnes is a high price. The Warriors would be giving up a lot for that.
Lee to Chicago Bulls for Carlos Boozer
This is an example of a trade that would work as an even financial swap. Boozer is paid $15 million next season and $16.8 million in 2015-16, the last year of his deal.
The Warriors get out from the third year of Lee’s contract and gain a proven power forward. The problem is, Boozer doesn't have Lee's ability to spread the floor and he's just as bad of a defender, so it's not much of a fit.
Lee and Brandon Rush to New York Knicks for Amar'e Stoudemire
The Warriors can send Lee back to Madison Square Garden and take a gamble on the potential superstar talents of the always-injured Stoudemire. When healthy, Stoudemire remains productive, and he did shoot 57.7 percent this past season for 14.2 points per game.
He doesn't rebound like Lee, but his mid-range shooting is similar, a key for Golden State to maintain its spacing. He's no longer the explosive player he once was, and he plays defense just the same as Lee.
Lee, Klay Thompson and a second-round pick to Boston Celtics for Rajon Rondo
This one may seemed far-fetched, but think about it: The Celtics are rebuilding, and draft picks along with Thompson are a huge step in that direction. The Warriors backcourt becomes Rondo and Curry, with Barnes remaining at the small forward position.
Brandon Rush comes off the bench, and there could be enough money to keep Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry.
This would be a tough one not to play with if you were the Warriors, but it remains unlikely; Ainge has stated Rondo is not on the trade block, as reported by Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston.
The bottom line
Lee’s contract is not bad enough to send away just for the sake of returning another bad contract. Additionally, there aren’t many players on current rosters who fit the needs of the Warriors without giving up too much.
When it comes down to available power forwards for the dollar, Lee may actually be the best fit.
The thought that Lee hurts the Warriors is somewhat off-base considering the alternative is to go small for an entire season or simply replace Lee with similarly skilled power forward. Lee doesn't play strong defense, but there are few power forwards with a perimeter game that do.
Howard may be one of just a few elite players worth giving up a piece like Thompson or Barnes, but doing so just to move your only All-Star is somewhat absurd.
The Warriors want to win now—and that probably means winning with Lee.