Sure, one of them is a 6'3" point guard and the other is a 6'9" power forward. One of them has a quick, smooth, high-arching jump shot while the other has a slow, choppy, line-drive release. But there are also several similarities.
Both are highly skilled offensive players who put up gaudy numbers. Each is known as a poor defender. They are the only two Warriors to make the All-Star Game this century.
They are also the only two players who have been with the Warriors since before the Mark Jackson era.
From the time Lee joined the Warriors in 2010—one year after Curry was drafted—the pick-and-roll duo has played with 39 different teammates. The turnover was not disproportionately heavy during one year; there were nine newcomers in 2011-12, seven in 2012-13 and nine in 2013-14.
The reasons that Curry and Lee have remained throughout this period of rapid transition are simple. They are both very good players, they are both great teammates and they are both signed to long-term contracts.
There are two more reasons: There has never been any reason to trade them, and they have both been irreplaceable given Golden State's roster.
Those final reasons are changing with regards to Lee, and as a result, Curry could say goodbye to yet another teammate.
Is Any Trade Necessary?
The results of Golden State's player cycling over the past few years appear positive. Through the constant change, the team has been markedly better every season.
That does not mean that change is the reason for the success.
After all, Curry—the longest-tenured Warrior—has steadily grown into a superstar, and the team has gotten better along with him. Klay Thompson—the longest-tenured Warrior not named Curry or Lee—has also blossomed during each of the last three seasons.
Draymond Green was much better in year two. Andrew Bogut had a better second season in Oakland. Mark Jackson improved as a coach each year.
Owner Joe Lacob would argue that the success has been due to an unrelenting drive to get better, and that is essentially the justification he used for firing Jackson. He was the coach to get the Warriors to where they are now, but Steve Kerr will get them to the top.
Even if Lacob is right, there is a strong case to be made for keeping the team intact. Players get better at playing with each other the longer they play together. For all that can be said about upgrading a roster on paper, there is a massive benefit to allowing a group of players to gel over an offseason, come into training camp knowing each other's tendencies and taking off from there.
The problem is, Lacob already threw a wrench in that option by firing Jackson. Even if the Dubs bring back their entire roster, they will have to learn a new system.
In a strange way, this almost makes a big move completely necessary. The Warriors have somewhat conceded title contention in 2014-15, because asking someone who has never coached on any level to win a title is something even Lacob would not do (...right?).
There is no reason to bring back the same roster for the sake of having a good year. The Warriors should be thinking two years down the line this summer, because that's when they can realistically contend for a championship.
In lieu of an all-out title run, the Warriors are getting an extra year to grow. Curry, Thompson and Green have a chance to keep improving. Iguodala and Bogut have a chance to become bigger pieces of the offense under Kerr. Harrison Barnes has a chance to get back on track.
The one player without any real room to grow is Lee. He is also the one player who does not factor into the team's plans beyond next season.
The Case For Trading David Lee (And No, It Is Not Because of His Defense)
It is very unpleasant to write about why the Warriors should trade Lee, because the dominant belief among Warriors fans and other writers is that he needs to be moved because he cannot shoot threes, is a poor defender and can help the team land a superstar.
These things are all wrong. Lee's inability to shoot does not bog down the offense as much as his post playmaking, offensive rebounding and efficient scoring help it. His poor defense is inconsequential on a team loaded with elite defenders. He won't bring in a superstar without the team moving Thompson as well, and that simply should not happen.
That being said, the Warriors should trade Lee.
If Thompson is extended this summer, the Warriors will go into luxury-tax territory in 2015-16. With $50 million committed to four players, another $10 million-plus committed to Thompson and seven more roster spots to account for, it would be impossible not to.
If the Warriors are above the tax threshold, they will not be able to upgrade the team. Lacob wants to win, but he's not Mikhail Prokhorov.
Curry is not going anywhere, Bogut would require an equally expensive replacement and it is not safe to bank on Barnes being able to replace Iguodala.
Lee, on the other hand, has two replacements waiting in the wings (literally): Barnes and Green.
Green had a fantastic second season, and his playoff performance made him a near-indispensible piece for Golden State. His ability to defend Blake Griffin without help is enough for any Western Conference team to want him, but he can also defend perimeter players, force turnovers both on the ball and as a help defender, out-rebound bigger players, earn his team extra possessions and make plays on offense.
If his three-point shot continues to improve, he will be the Warriors power forward of the future.
Barnes' future is far murkier.
The Harrison Barnes Dilemma
For 78 games this season, Barnes screamed that he was not a sixth man and that he should be traded or made a starter.
He didn't literally scream it, or say it, or say anything. The reduction of Barnes to a bench player seemed to reduce him in just about every other way. He's always come across as shy, or at least quiet and polite, but that didn't stop him from rudely dunking in people's faces throughout his rookie season, nor did it stop him from asserting himself in the post against two excellent frontcourts during last year's playoffs.
Starting gave Barnes confidence. Going up against mismatched defenders gave him confidence. Being open and having plays and shots created for him gave him confidence.
The problem is that Barnes is not nearly as good as any of the Warriors' five starters. At least, he wasn't when he was coming off the bench.
But say Lee was traded and Barnes was awarded the starting power forward spot. He thrived as a stretch 4 during the 2013 playoffs, and he could very well rediscover the confidence that made his success possible.
The Warriors would lose their best scorer off the bench and their backup small forward, but trading Lee could net them both of those things. A duo of 2013-playoff level Barnes and Green at the 4 plus an improved bench would make the loss of Lee irrelevant.
If Lee is not moved, Barnes might have to go. Being a sixth man is a talent, and it is much harder than being the fourth or fifth option in a starting lineup. He has proven that he does not have that talent, and the Warriors need to cash in on his still-solid trade value before another clunker of a season.
This, however, would be accepting guaranteed pennies for a potential dollar. The Warriors would be trading Barnes because he has no value as a bench player, and another team would take him because he has great value as a starter and future star.
It would make far more sense to keep him, accommodate him by giving him a starting role and wait for that star potential to realize itself.
The Two-Year Plan
Lee is a fantastic player and should not be traded because of anything he does or doesn't do on the court. At the same time, he should absolutely be traded because of what trading him would do for the rest of the roster.
Trading Lee would allow the Warriors to extend Thompson without going into the luxury tax next summer. It would allow them to hold onto Barnes, put him back into a role he should immediately thrive in and develop into the core player that he could very well become. It would create a larger role for Green.
Trading Lee would also net the Warriors whatever type of bench depth they desire. Whether they add a backup point guard and a combo big, a backup center and a three-point specialist or a sixth man and a draft pick.
The team would not be better next year. Replacing Lee's high volume of easy baskets, his creativity in the post and his dominance on the glass is not possible, and expecting Barnes and Green to reach their full potential immediately is unrealistic.
Since a championship is all but out of the question for 2014-15 anyway, though, that shouldn't matter. What matters is two years from now, when Thompson's extension kicks in, Barnes and/or Green start to come into their own as a starting 4, Kerr starts to come into his own as a coach and Curry reaches his veteran prime.
With cap flexibility and a young core intact, Warriors players could finally unite with a familiar group entering camp in 2015, just as they are getting good enough to contend for a title.
Not all change is good change, and losing the second-longest tenured Warrior would have far more ill effects than most people seem to realize. But given the changes that have already been made, from Jackson's firing to Iguodala's signing, making one more big change in order to re-vitalize what is present is the best thing the Warriors can do for their future.
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