David Lee might be the most under-appreciated member of the Golden State Warriors. If recent trade winds come to fruition, Lee might be gallivanting off to be under-appreciated somewhere else.
Lee's name has been bandied about in rumors over the last few days, most notably in swaps featuring Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love and New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler.
ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported that Lee was featured in talks along with Klay Thompson and another asset (possibly Harrison Barnes) in a deal that would have sent Love and guard Kevin Martin to the Bay Area. Stein and Ramona Shelburne have since noted the deal has reached an impasse due to an internal disagreement from Golden State about whether to include Thompson.
The other rumor, albeit one with far less steam, comes from ESPN's Stephen A. Smith. Appearing on his ESPN Radio show on Wednesday, Smith suggested the Warriors would be willing to trade Lee and Barnes for Chandler.
“I believe there’s a possibility that the Golden State Warriors would trade those two guys for Tyson Chandler,” Smith said, via ESPNNewYork.com's Ian Begley. “I’m not saying it’s definite but I really believe in my heart they would do it. And if there’s a possibility that they would do it, the New York Knicks have got to investigate it.”
With the Love deal currently on the outs and the Chandler speculation being high-comedy (not happening), Lee seems more likely now than ever to stick in Golden State. Lee has been the subject of plenty of trade rumors for years, as Golden State looks to get out from his maximum contract while adding pieces to a championship core.
The 31-year-old forward is the only high-salaried player on the roster the Warriors would consider moving, and his deal becomes less cumbersome with every passing year. It's unlikely we've heard the last of Lee's name this summer, and he'll have a "for sale" sign attached to his forehead through the end of his contract.
In the case of Love, it's understandable. For all of his flaws, Love is the NBA's most offensively skilled big man—and it might not even be that close. He is the first player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975-76 to average 26 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in the same season, per Basketball-Reference. Together, he and Stephen Curry would create the NBA's best twosome when judged by win shares.
When you have the opportunity to trade for one of the game's 10 best players, guys like Lee and even Thompson are the cost of doing business.
As for a salary-dump trade like the one mentioned by Smith, that misunderstands Golden State's goals and Lee's contribution to the team. The Warriors are not looking to rebuild. They want to load up and see this current core as being one piece away from a title. Adding Chandler and pairing him with Andrew Bogut would create an offensive spacing mess and defeat the purpose of win-now moves already made the past couple years.
Plus, it almost gets forgotten in these rumors what an effective offensive player Lee can be.
There were eight players league-wide who averaged 18 points and nine rebounds last season: Love, Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, DeMarcus Cousins, Al Jefferson, LaMarcus Aldridge and Lee. That's not a bad fraternity.
Lee's ability to knock down mid-range jumpers at a league average rate and his excellent passing skills from the high post give Golden State's offense spacing that dies when he hits the bench. The Warriors scored seven more points per 100 possessions with Lee on the floor in 2013-14, per NBA.com.
While he's admittedly a defensive liability, he played fine within Mark Jackson's system last year and understands team defense concepts. Lee is a good player whom the Warriors will be more than willing to have back if their star-chasing dreams fall through.
But if it means getting Kevin Love or another high-profile star? It's been a fun (if under-appreciated) run for Lee in Golden State. He's gone.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.