David Lee crazy eyes

Current/former(?) KNBR host Eric Byrnes went on with Tom Tobert and Ray Ratto yesterday afternoon, and in the course of some Warriors smalltalk dropped a “juicy, juicy, juicy” (as Byrnes himself might say) nugget.

“One thing I heard, and this was interesting. And I don’t know what the reason was. Now I heard this secondhand, and of course we like to take secondhand stuff and throw it out over the 50,000-watt flamethrower just to stir up the controversy a little bit. But … according to a source, supposedly David Lee told him that it was the most miserable basketball season that he had endured,” said Byrnes.

“There’s so much internal dissension that was going on … I think if you had that much weird stuff going on, with the assistant coaches potentially taping guys and all the other nonsense, something had to change.”

Byrnes made it sound like Lee’s state of mind was due to the weirdness that came about during Jackson’s third and final year as Warriors head coach. In actuality, there are several things one can point to if they’re looking for reasons why Lee was miserable, if that was indeed the case.

  • Lee missed 13 games due to injury, his highest total since 2006-07.
  • His midrange jumper completely vanished in 2013-14.
  • His minutes dropped from 34.1 per game before the All-Star Break to 30.8 after.

Those are personal, numbers-based reasons. If we’re looking into the Jackson angle, there are a couple things that stand out.

Jackson’s top priority was defense – not exactly Lee’s greatest strength. At times throughout the season, Jackson (perhaps no longer worried about hurting one of Joe Lacob’s favorite player’s feelings) removed Lee for defensive purposes. That continued in the playoffs.

When asked about his reasoning for pulling Lee, Jackson answered, “Defensive. Obviously we want to be able to post up David and make plays offensively. We feel like we can have success that way. But defensively, I thought things were happening a little too easily.”

The next reason is a little more complicated. Lee has long considered himself one of the co-leaders of the team with Stephen Curry, the player he races (in a friendly way) from midcourt to the baseline before every game. That equality was hammered home when Lee made the Western Conference All-Star team over Curry last season.

(Side note: I recall hearing an interview on 95.7 The Game with Lee in the middle of the 2012-13 season where Ric Bucher asked who the team’s MVP was — if Lee took himself out of the equation. Even though Bucher made the instructions quite clear, Lee couldn’t help himself. He mentioned how both he and Curry were the team’s leaders, and therefore they shared the title of MVP.)

As Curry raised his game throughout the second half of the 2012-13 season and became a nationally recognized star in the 2013 postseason (while Lee nursed a hip injury), Jackson started to mention publicly how Curry is the team’s best player.

This isn’t exactly a secret. Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson have uttered the same words. But Jackson made it clear who “the guy” was throughout 2013-14, and that’s something he didn’t do in his first two years as head coach.

Granted, Byrnes is coming through with a “secondhand” source. Maybe Lee wasn’t all that miserable. And if he was, maybe it stemmed from losing a couple assistants late in the season and dealing with all the questions about Jackson’s future as the year went on. But I remember asking Lee if he paid attention to questions about whether he should start, or if his presence even helps the team.

“No, I don’t pay attention to what Tim Kawakami writes. By this point, you ought to know that it’s rather biased. I’m not taking shots at him, but I think he just took Harrison’s name out of the article and inserted Draymond’s this year.

“I think I’ve been a guy that’s worked my butt off for this team, been a leader on and off the court. A huge stat they say is plus/minus. I think I’m ninth in the league in that right now. So if I’m hurting the team, I don’t see it. There’s a lot of things I can get better at, and I’m going to keep doing that. And I think I can help this team do a lot of things in the playoffs coming up if I get healthy.”

Based on Lee’s response, I’m not surprised to hear he didn’t enjoy last season all that much. We’ll see if the addition of Steve Kerr changes things.