Question: What do you get when you combine an NBA All-Star in the prime of his career with a pile of D-Leaguers?
Answer: We don't know yet, but we're about to find out.
No, not LeBron James — I'm referring in this case to David Lee, who agreed late Thursday night to pack his bags for Northern California in a sign-and-trade deal between the Knicks and the Golden State Warriors.
Lee goes from one troubled situation (five years, five losing seasons with the Knicks) to another (the Warriors have made just one playoff appearance in 16 years). Will it help him? Doubtful, to be honest.
This isn't to say the Warriors are completely hopeless. They're not. There are a few promising pieces there in Golden State. There's Monta Ellis, who tore up opposing defenses last season to the tune of 25.5 points per game and is still only 24. There's Stephen Curry, who has quickly but quietly developed into one of the smartest, most instinctive young guards in the game. And there's a core of solid big men already in place in Andris Biedrins, Brandan Wright, new draftee Ekpe Udoh and now Lee. That's a good foundation.
But it's still sort of a step backward for Lee, who turned 27 this spring and still has no clue how it feels to play for a winning NBA team.
He's gone from one losing team to another. At least in New York, he was a fan favorite, revered by millions as the face of the franchise in arguably the nation's best basketball town. What is he in Golden State? He's another face in the crowd next to Ellis, Curry and the rest of the Warriors, and if he ever wants to win anything, he's got to fight a competitive uphill battle against L.A., Phoenix, Dallas, Denver, Portland, Utah and the rest of the Western Conference big dogs.
But if you want to dig really deep and find a bright side of this transaction for David Lee, here's one: Golden State just might be the right fit for his game.
Lee is a player who thrives on his athleticism and his quickness. He's undersized — at 6-foot-9, he spends most of his time at power forward and even some at center — but he makes up for it with instinctive moves and hustle plays. The Warriors are a run-and-gun team under the tutelage of Don Nelson, and Lee has the running and gunning ability to fit right in.
Lee had a good time last season playing for Mike D'Antoni, who must be fining his players whenever the shot clock gets below 20 the way his offenses play. Lee piled up 20.2 points and 11.7 rebounds per game — he, Chris Bosh and Zach Randolph were the only three 20-10 guys in the league.
That was with the Knicks, who were tied for sixth in the NBA in pace factor at 94.0 possessions per game.
The Warriors were not only first in the league — they were the first team in 18 years to surpass 100.
In other words, David Lee is heading to Golden State for some golden stats.
Whether he'll ever win anything is another question entirely. And that's most likely a no. But Lee will make $80 million over the next six years, he'll play in a system where he can make himself right at home, and he'll pile up numbers so big they'll make Lee's successor in New York, Amare Stoudemire, jealous.
David Lee won't be a New York City icon anymore. He can kiss those days goodbye. But he can say hello to a new era in Golden State, where he'll be a star from now through his 33rd birthday. Life could be a lot worse.
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