In a move that lessens the Warriors’ luxury tax burden and gives one of their leaders from past seasons a decent chance at a career revival, David Lee will go to the Celtics in exchange for Gerald Wallace. The Warriors were confident that they could move Lee, a vital offseason task since his $15.5 million salary would actually cost them more than twice that amount when taking into account tax penalties.
Wallace isn’t all that cheap either, with a salary just over $10.1 million next year (both players’ contracts expire after the 2015/16 season). But the Warriors could either choose to keep Wallace and save more than $23 million overall, or waive him using the stretch provision, which would allow the Warriors to spread Wallace’s tax hits over the next three seasons at a little less than $3.4 million per season. (The Warriors couldn’t use the stretch provision on Lee, since his deal was signed before the current CBA.) Or, Golden State could move Wallace in another deal.
Wallace is a player Warriors fans wanted for years, because in his prime he would’ve given them a lot of what they didn’t have: athleticism, muscle, toughness and defense. But Wallace played just 286 minutes last year, and while he’s less than a year older than Lee, he’ll be an old 33 next year due to an aggressive playing style that saw him hit the floor as often as any player in the league over the last decade.
Lee will justly receive a lot of credit around here for handling a difficult situation. He considered himself one of the team’s co-leaders with Stephen Curry up until this past season, when even Lee had to admit that his MVP teammate had projected himself into another stratosphere.
Lee, on the other hand, lost his midrange jumper in 2013/14 and started his first season under Steve Kerr with a hamstring injury. Once Kerr saw what some Warriors observers called for a year earlier — the Warriors were a much more dangerous and complete squad with Draymond Green starting at power forward — the new head coach kept Green in that role and Lee struggled to fit in as a small-ball center.
However, Lee had his moments. The Warriors looked lost against Memphis, and he came in and provided some key minutes. He helped turn the tide against the Cavs when the series moved to Cleveland, too. And throughout the year, from November through the championship after-parties in San Francisco, Lee kept his head up and acted like Green’s No. 1 fan.
He never came close to playing defense as well as Green. However, Lee put more effort in on that end this past season than he ever did in previous years. He used to be a 20/10 All-Star. His double-doubles won him many fans, but Lee falls into the class of players from yesteryear, as traits like floor spacing, versatility and defense, as well as Green’s patented “do-anything-it-takes-to-win” style get more attention now than ever before. (The Warriors’ first championship in 40 years highlighted this.) But Lee still has his strong points. He was Green’s “vet,” and one has to think some of Lee’s passing ability and craftiness on the court, and demeanor with the media off the court, rubbed off on the younger player from Michigan State.
Lee is one of the better pick-and-roll players in the league. He’s ambidextrous, doesn’t mind playing at a quicker pace, and should get his chances to eat in the Eastern Conference on a Celtics team where the only other power forwards are the newly-signed Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko. During the playoffs it looked like Lee couldn’t even make layups or an acceptable percentage of his free throws, but that could’ve been due to rust. We’ll see — as long as he stays productive, Lee will be a popular player in Boston. Below average defense at the 4 doesn’t hurt teams as much on the other coast.
Lee leaves after making a boatload of money after the sign-and-trade the Warriors made with the Knicks back in the summer of 2010. He also has a championship ring and a sterling reputation, not just as a good soldier but as someone who put an extraordinary amount of time and money into St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.
Let’s also not forget one of the best screengrabs in Warriors history, courtesy of Lee:
Never gets old, right?
The Warriors get some tax savings and flexibility without having to throw in a future draft pick, and no longer have to worry about getting Lee enough minutes. This move should open up some more minutes for Mo Speights, and possibly prop the window open a little bit for a reserve role for either James Michael McAdoo or first-rounder Kevon Looney.
- A highly-paid and popular star has his job taken away.
- The team wins.
- The star leaves.
- Everyone turns the page with a smile.
Sports divorces are rarely this pleasant, which once again shows just how well everything has gone for the Warriors over the last calendar year.