Warriors' David Lee adjusts to new role coming off the bench
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) There are days David Lee plays enough minutes he can find a little flow, then others when the former All-Star forward sits for long stretches or never leaves Golden State's bench at all.
It's one of the hardest decisions first-year coach Steve Kerr has made while leading the Western Conference's hottest team, and even harder for Lee. He is a role player for the first time since early in his 10-year NBA career.
''This is a really tricky one,'' Kerr said. ''David's a great player. He's been an All-Star. He's still in his prime.''
Lee, a 2005 first-round draft pick who will turn 32 next month, has decided this is the season he will show the basketball world he can be a supportive teammate.
The winning makes it worth it.
Lee vows to stay ready, and plans to contribute in some way come playoff time.
''First of all, I still have a job, and that's to be cheering on my teammates,'' he said. ''When we get a win, to me it's a successful day. You realize that there have been plenty of times I've been the one out there playing 40 minutes and there have been guys that haven't gotten in.''
Lee didn't play at all in games against Phoenix and Detroit last week, then went 31 minutes at Denver last Friday as Kerr rested his regulars. On Saturday against his former Knicks, Lee checked in with 47 seconds left in the first and played 24 minutes. He made 5 of 6 field goals to finish with 10 points, four rebounds, two assists and a block.
In Monday night's narrow win against the Lakers, he played 12 minutes. Lee is averaging 8.2 points and 5.5 rebounds playing just under 19 minutes a game.
Slowed and sidelined early in the season by a strained left hamstring, Draymond Green stepped into the starting lineup in Lee's place and has done everything to hold onto that spot with his standout play on both ends. In fact, Green would be Kerr's choice for NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Kerr has made a point to communicate with Lee, the team's highest-paid player earning $15 million this season and someone the roster was built around after he was acquired in July 2010 from New York.
''If I put him out there for 30 minutes a night, I have no doubt he'd average 18 points and 10 boards,'' Kerr said. ''He'd do his thing because he's talented and skilled. But it's all about how the puzzle fits together. And right now, he's just been the odd man out. And it's incredibly frustrating for him, as it should be. He's a human being.''
Lee led the NBA with 56 double-doubles in 2012-13 and became Golden State's first All-Star since Latrell Sprewell in 1997.
Lee's teammates know what he brings each day, even if the fans aren't seeing it as regularly at sold-out, rocking Oracle Arena.
''It's a struggle and a different situation than he probably expected coming into the season,'' point guard Stephen Curry said. ''He handled it with a lot of maturity and optimism about just whenever he's called to go out and give it his all, and try to take advantage of those spots he can get in and help us - because he can help us.''
Kerr still must find Lee minutes as he prepares the Warriors for the playoffs and what they expect to be a deep postseason run.
For now, Golden State's small-ball lineups are working in what Kerr calls a ''hybrid'' offense with elements of the triangle.
''If we're good enough, someday people will say, `That's the Golden State system,''' Kerr joked. ''We're a long way from that though.''
He added that with so many teams playing smaller lineups, forcing Lee to defend a quicker player or 3-point shooter at the 4 position could present challenges.
''David's handled his lack of playing time beautifully,'' Kerr said. ''He's got to be crushed. I know he is. I've talked to him. But he keeps coming in and working.''
By next season, Lee certainly will be eager to make his mark in a contract year during which he will receive about $15.5 million as he winds up a six-year deal. Unless Golden State tries to trade him before then.
''It's definitely a challenging new role, and tough to find a rhythm sometimes,'' Lee said. ''But I wouldn't trade it for anything with how our team's doing. I just see this as an opportunity to prove that I'm a team guy, prove how much I care about winning.''