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OAKLAND – For a full four seasons, ever since that July 2010 day when Warriors CEO Joe Lacob signed him to an $80 million contract, David Lee has been a team leader and the unquestioned starter at power forward.
Now, four games into his fifth season with the Warriors, Lee's status is in jeopardy.
Though the ongoing process is complex, the two factors in play are simple.
Lee, 31, is the team's oldest player and has become increasingly susceptible to injury. His latest, a strained left hamstring, caused him to miss the first three games and was aggravated when Lee made his season debut with a seven-minute stint off the bench on Wednesday. He is expected to miss at least another two weeks.
The other factor: Draymond Green, who has started in place of Lee, quickly has made himself so indispensible he deserves to remain the starter or, at the very least, play the bulk of minutes at power forward.
Green's rise began during the playoffs last spring. After Clippers power forward Blake Griffin torched Lee for 67 points in Games 2 and 3, both won by Los Angeles, then-coach Mark Jackson inserted Green into the starting lineup. The Warriors won game 4 by 21 (118-97).
Moreover, Green played 40 minutes and finished an astonishing plus-33 for the game. Griffin played 36 minutes and was minus-22.
Green has since started every meaningful game, the final four of the postseason and the first four of this regular season. The Warriors are 6-2 over than span, splitting the final four games with the Clippers and winning their first four this season.
There was a change in coaching, but there is no sign of change at starting power forward. It's Green for now, and probably will be Green for a while.
"I don't really have a policy on these things in terms of, if a guy gets hurt, does he come back and start," Kerr said. "I don't know.
"We are 4-0 when Draymond is starting, and he's playing well. So I'll keep starting him."
That's an easy call for now, with Lee unavailable, but Kerr has opened the door to permanent change.
"When (Lee) is healthy, he and Draymond form the perfect combination, regardless of who starts and who comes off the bench," the coach said. "What David gives us is that low-post scoring and passing. Draymond gives us that heart, passion, energy and sometimes he's making threes. He's a great force out there. I like the combination."
Green, who can be a restricted free agent next season, is enjoying the additional playing time and, obviously, is making a major contribution.
"I enjoy starting; I'm not going to lie," he said. "It's a different feel. So I enjoy it.
"But I'm always willing to do what I can do to help this team win. I mean, if Andre Iguodala can take a back seat and take a spot on the bench after starting 807 games in a row, who am I to sit and say I've got to continue starting because we're 4-0? That's absurd."
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That's the perfectly diplomatic response from Green, and I have no doubt he's sincere. But his play is speaking for him. The team's record is forcing Kerr and his staff to consider staying with the current lineup.
If Green remains the starter, what happens to Lee? He becomes a force off the bench.
It's a sacrifice Iguodala is making, and it's one that must be considered for Lee. And Kerr continues to emphasize the need for self-sacrifice, for the good of the team.
Imagine a second unit with Lee joining Iguodala (and/or Shaun Livingston), Leandro Barbosa (or Brandon Rush) and Festus Ezeli. Opponents would not want to deal with that. It would be superior to many NBA starting lineups, vastly so to a few.
Don't be surprised if, under Kerr and his staff, this comes to pass.