The Golden State Warriors are learning that keeping together a championship team is expensive, and to do so, they’ve been forced to trade David Lee to the Boston Celtics, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein. A two-time All-Star, Lee’s early-season hamstring injury thrust Draymond Green into a starting role, and the rest was history. Now, Lee is a talented-and-highly-paid player who didn’t have a place in Golden State’s rotation, and needed to be moved to save space for the Warriors (and to do right by Lee), and to make room for Gerald Wallace?
If the Warriors change their mind, they could use the salary cap’s stretch provision on Gerald Wallace, which would allow them to release him and take a smaller cap hit from his contract over the next three years. They could also theoretically turn around and trade him again. Even if the Warriors simply keep Wallace, his $10 million cap hit is less than Lee’s $15 million, so any way you slice it, this trade provides the cap relief the Warriors need.
The Celtics are one of a handful of teams with the space to absorb David Lee’s contract and the willingness to use it, as they’re still in asset acquisition mode. They’re also still a small team, and the 6-foot-10 Lee is an excellent rebounder and skilled scorer in the post and pick-and-roll. He’s a poor defender, which is a large concern for Boston without a true rim protector to cover up for him. But his contract expires after this coming season, so his large salary won’t be an impediment for Boston by the time they transition from rebuilding to attempting to contention.
Lee’s rough end to his Warriors career (in terms of playing time, that is) didn’t do justice to the caliber of player he is. His defensive issues are real, but his other skills are good enough to theoretically justify a place for him in the rotation of a contender. After all, the Cavaliers steamrolled the league when Kevin Love was healthy, and he’s no better on defense than Lee. Maybe something clicks in Boston with boy genius Brad Stevens, but for Lee, this will be in essence a tryout year, where he can rebuild his value before his 2016 free agency after a season riding the pine.