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Draymond Green Should Replace David Lee for Good with Golden State Warriors

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 5, 2014

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 24: Head Coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors shakes the hand of Draymond Green #23 in a game against the Denver Nuggets on October 24, 2014 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Golden State Warriors never used to have problems like this, so they aren't going to start complaining about them now.

But there is such a thing as having too much talent, at least when it involves players commanding appropriately pricey salaries. The Warriors have two starting-caliber power forwards in David Lee and Draymond Green, and NBA economics dictate that the franchise will soon likely face a decision to keep one or the other.

Despite Lee's All-Star past and Green's relative lack of experience, it's the latter who should be deemed indispensable.

The Finances

PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 15:  Draymond Green #23 and David Lee #10 of the Golden State Warriors walk down court during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on December 15, 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Warriors 106-10
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Green, a second-round pick in 2012, is criminally underpaid at the moment.

Still bound by the restrictions of his rookie contract, the former Michigan State Spartan will collect just $0.9 million this season. For that bargain rate, the Warriors have a player who finished the 2013-14 campaign ranked fifth in defensive rating (97.7) and tied for 37th in ESPN.com's real plus-minus (3.50).

Obviously, something has got to give here, and it will once Green hits restricted free agency next summer. As Basketball Insiders' Nate Duncan noted, Golden State's Swiss army knife is primed to get paid in a big way:

Green is an extremely underrated contributor as a burgeoning stretch four with a nice passing eye and the ability to guard all five positions in a pinch.  With the amount of cap room around the league and the cap set to explode in 2016, Green could receive an offer starting as high as $8 million per year in restricted free agency.

What's worse for the Warriors is that Green knows the money is coming. Short of parking a few empty Brink's trucks in his driveway, the 24-year-old has done everything he can to prepare for his massive payday.

Green recently joined forces with player-turned-agent B.J. Armstrong of the powerhouse Wasserman Media Group, per USA Today Sports' Sam Amick. Green said the change in representation came from a desire "to go a little bit bigger" and his feeling that Armstrong's playing background would help the agent best communicate Green's economic value at the negotiating table:

He's someone who really knows the game, because I'm not going to come down and give you 20 (points) and 10 (rebounds) every night, so you may not always read in the stats what I do. Someone who really knows the game as well as B.J. does can really appreciate and sell what I do. I felt a great connection there, and that's why I made the decision.

The Warriors know Green's value as well as anyone, so they could surely see a lucrative deal coming his way. But with five eight-figure salaries already on next season's books, the franchise is working with limited funds.

If it had hoped to lure Green back at a discounted rate, that bubble has burst. Now, the Warriors are looking at a scenario in which they will have to foot a luxury tax bill simply to keep their current core intact.

Dec 15, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut (12) in congratulated by teammates forward David Lee (10), guard Klay Thompson (11), forward Draymond Green (23) and guard Stephen Curry (30) in the second half of the game against
USA TODAY Sports

"If they want to keep their important pieces, the Warriors are looking at close to a $90 million payroll next season and that's over the luxury tax threshold by any estimation," wrote Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News. "... Essentially, the Warriors would almost certainly be going deep into luxury tax to re-sign Green."

That's one option, but history suggests the organization would like to find a different route.

And that path would involve shedding one of the team's costly veterans, as Kawakami noted:

Tim Kawakami @timkawakami

Warriors brass will deny this, but to keep Draymond Green next summer they almost have to dump Iguodala or Lee's contracts before then.

While the Warriors could look to unload Andre Iguodala, whose traditional stats have sagged from the moment he landed in Oakland, dealing Lee would be a much more preferable path.

The Two-Way Impact

First-year coach Steve Kerr’s offense operates best with a floor-spacing power forward in the mix. Per Kawakami, having a stretch 4 in the mix was the only personnel preference he shared after landing the gig in May.

Under Kerr, Golden State has unleashed a selfless brand of basketball that emphasizes ball movement and aggressive attacks at the offensive end. That style of play leaves a slim margin for error, which only grows smaller with congestion in the frontcourt.

Green, a career 30.3 percent shooter from distance, doesn’t exactly fit the stretch 4 role like a glove. But his willingness to let it fly (2.0 three-point attempts a night the past two seasons) forces defenders to respect that shot as being a part of his arsenal.

Lee, on the other hand, attempted only 26 triples during his first nine seasons in the league. He misfired on all but one of those looks.

With a balanced floor, this offense has video game explosiveness. In 22 minutes together this season, the lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Iguodala, Green and Andrew Bogut has posted an astounding 131.5 offensive rating. And before dismissing the miniature sample size, just note this quintet had a 116.1 rating at that end last season, albeit in only 71 minutes.

But here’s the real kicker about that group: It’s better equipped for the defensive end than the offensive side.

“It’s impossible to deny that any period of game time that includes Bogut, Green and Iguodala banging into opponents and making great rotations and defending the rim… well, that’s going to be a very good defensive unit for the Warriors,” Kawakami wrote in April.

With Bogut, Green and Iguodala on the floor, the Warriors have allowed 97.8 points per 100 possessions. Last season, that number was only 88.1. To put those figures into perspective, the Indiana Pacers led the league with a 96.7 defensive rating in 2013-14. Only three teams had a rating under 100.

Defensively, a canyon sits between Lee and Green. The former is a liability who pulls Bogut off rim-protecting duties to guard his back or take on the power forward matchups he can’t handle. Green is a defensive weapon with the quickness, strength, instincts and smarts to harass players at all five positions.

To put that another way, the Warriors have to work harder defensively with Lee on the floor. Green makes their life easier when his number is called.

After holding his own against 6'11" All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge during Sunday's 95-90 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, the 6'7" Green drew his coach's praise before reporters had even kicked off the interview session.

"The guy I have to mention before you even ask is Draymond," Kerr said, per Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle"He's giving up (four) inches to LaMarcus Aldridge, who is incredible. I mean, the guy is such a great low-post player, and Draymond just played him all night and battled him."

Nov 2, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) fight for the ball during the second quarter at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Spo
USA TODAY Sports

The last time someone waxed so poetically on Lee's defense, well, let's just say it wasn't nearly as kind.

Now, some may argue a similar split exists at the opposite side, only in Lee’s favor. After all, he’s been an 18.2 points-per-game scorer since joining the Warriors in 2010 and never worse than a 50.3 percent shooter from the field.

Green’s career-high scoring average is his current 8.7 points per game. His best shooting season came last year, when he converted 40.7 percent from the field.

But the offensive gap between the two is smaller than the stat sheet suggests.

Both are excellent passers for their position, though Green had a narrow edge in assist percentage (11.9) over Lee (10.9) last season. Lee is a superior scorer around the basket (67.0 percent within three feet of the basket, compared to Green's 60.0), but his declining returns as a mid-range shooter (39.0 percent from 10-to-16 feet, 35.7 percent from 16 feet to the three-point arc) limit the ways he can score.

Lee still has the offensive edge, but it's a tighter race than advertised. And if he can't force defenders out of the lane, his lack of athleticism will hurt his ability to finish underneath.

The Decision

May 3, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) celebrates at the end of the first quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers in game seven of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit:
USA TODAY Sports

It's hard to say what all this means for the 2014-15 campaign. While Lee (hamstring) hasn't had a hand in the team's first 3-0 start in 20 years, his stature and salary might be enough to move him into the starting lineup when he's back in action.

For now, the Warriors need both Lee (for his scoring and rebounding) and Green (for a little of everything). But they won't have the luxury of keeping both around much longer.

And once they're forced to choose, it should be an easy decision. Not only does Green provide a lift at both ends of the floor, but he also gives this team something currently in short supply: youth.

As ESPN.com's Ethan Sherwood Strauss observed, the ages of these two players must be factored into the equation:

Ethan Strauss @SherwoodStrauss

One reason the Warriors need to sign Draymond Green, besides Green being good: He's 24 and the team isn't exactly young

Whether due to the newness of the idea of the Warriors being good or because so much of their production comes from the 26-year-old Curry and 24-year-old Thompson, this team may not strike many as being "old."

But it certainly isn't young. Lee and Leandro Barbosa will both turn 32 before next summer. Iguodala's 31st birthday comes in January, two months after Bogut hits 30. Prized offseason addition Shaun Livingston is 29 years old.

The Warriors have some young talent but definitely not an abundance of it. And remember, this franchise has already shipped out each of its next four second-round picks along with its 2017 first-rounder, so prospects could be hard to find in the coming years.

And attracting free agents will be tough as long as Lee's contract remains on the books. Whatever Green collects on the open market, it won't be the $15 million-plus salary Lee is set to pull in both this season and next.

Lee's deal might not be the easiest to unload, but the Warriors have to explore that option from every angle. They cannot afford to let a budding talent like Green slip out of their grasp—especially not when he has already proved to be a better fit for this roster than Lee.

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com. Salary information obtained via Basketball-Reference.com.