It didn’t take long for the members of the Warriors' new coaching staff to conclude David Lee was unable to do the things they needed from their power forward.
Steve Kerr 14 months ago walked into the job as Warriors head coach stating a clear desire for a forward with enough shooting range to stretch defenses.
Lee doesn’t do that.
Alvin Gentry, in charge of the offense, wanted a power forward that not only could shoot the three but also could handle the ball and operate beyond the pick-and-roll.
Lee can’t do that.
Defensive guru Ron Adams asked only that every position be capable of defending its opposite position on the other team.
Lee never, ever has been able to do that.
If a player can’t do what his coaches want or need, there is no room for him – no matter how large his paycheck. When Draymond Green, younger and more elastic, thrived while making a fraction of Lee’s salary, the veteran was finished.
Lee will suit up in Boston because what he had done in the past no longer mattered. Being a foundation player during the turnaround, the bond with Stephen Curry, the reliable double-doubles, the All-Star appearance in 2013 – the first Warrior selected to the squad in 16 years – all faded away as the Warriors prospered as never before while Lee was in the training room nursing a strained hamstring.
With the Warriors, after spending most of the past 40 years wandering the NBA desert, racing to the top of the league without Lee, his departure was the natural outcome. His salary, $15.1 million last season and $15.5 mil for next season, had become more than a burden. With Lee on the bench, it was extravagance in public.
Lee had some fine days as a Warrior and says his five years with the team ware the best of his life. Not career. Life. He was a numbers guy, and he usually got his. But he also was a fine teammate – aside from those occasions when his negligent defense drew sighs and grunts from an exasperated Andrew Bogut.
It was David who generally was available to talk basketball, even as he was being phased out. It was David who cheered loudest for Green, the man who replaced him. It was David, exhilarated by the team’s NBA Finals triumph, who footed the massive bill for group trip to Las Vegas.
"I thought it was great that the team went to Vegas together," Kerr told ESPN last month. "David Lee treated the whole team, by the way. He flew them out there. He put them up in hotels. It was an incredibly generous gesture by David.”
In truth, the Warriors front office saw this day coming long before Kerr and his staff arrived late last spring. Though nobody said it publicly, the folks in the Warriors’ front office took notice of how Green stifled Clippers star Blake Griffin during the first-round series between the teams last spring.
If they could have moved Lee in the proposed deal for Kevin Love, the Warriors would have.
Mark Jackson often pondered the Green-for-Lee move but was skittish about how it would play with CEO Joe Lacob, who acquired Lee and treated him in some ways as another son. Kerr’s decision, however, was made by the success of the team. There was no need to persuade Lacob it was time for a change.
That left the question of what to do with David. He played spot minutes, usually against matchups the coaching staff thought manageable. The must-go moment, if there was one, came on Feb. 6 in Atlanta, where the Warriors took a 124-116 loss.
In a much-hyped game featuring teams atop their respective conferences, the Warriors were stunned by the outburst of shambling reserve forward Mike Scott, who came off the bench to score 17 points in 17 minutes. He drilled three 3-pointers, each time after somehow out-plodding Lee.
Lee’s playing time diminished over the final two months. He winced but never whined. How could he? He was the highest-paid member of the team and going on the best ride of his career.
Sure, being a bystander punctured his ego. Sure, the man who had contributed so much longed to be needed. But he wasn’t. So he settled for being a pro.