So we say Goodbye, once and for all, to David Lee, who was nothing less than the visible lightning rod for all that was good and bad about the Warriors during their advancement from a hut on the outskirts of the NBA to the league’s penthouse suite.
Lee was, in his own way, every bit as much of a launching pad for the New Age Warriors as was Stephen Curry.
Lee, who disclosed his retirement Sunday in a very 2017 America way -- with an Instagram post -- came to the Warriors from the New York Knicks in a July 2010 sign-and-trade deal. He was the one-man brass band providing accompaniment to the announcement of the team being purchased by Joe Lacob and Peter Guber.
An expensive band, too, as the Warriors handed Lee a six-year contract worth $80 million.
Fairly popular in New York, having been the team’s only All-Star in the nine-season span from 2001-02 to 2010-11, Lee became a fast favorite among many Warriors fans because he produced impressive individual numbers for a struggling team with a richly earned inferiority complex.
In 2012-13, Lee’s third season as a Warrior, he became the team’s first All-Star since Latrell Sprewell 16 years earlier. Lee led the NBA in double-doubles, his favorite statistical category. That season, not coincidently, also marked the team’s return to the playoffs after a five-year absence.
Lee by then was partnering with Curry as the leaders of a team -- no, a franchise -- determined to became a player in the NBA. With Guber’s theatrical flair and Lacob’s naked ambition, the Warriors were not going to be stopped.
It became apparent the following season, even as the team was making its second consecutive playoff appearance, that Lee had a ceiling. He could score and rebound well enough to rack up double-doubles, but he was giving away points on the other end. Lee was an awful defender, constantly picked on by opponents.
The Warriors could win a lot of games with Lee as their starting power forward, but they weren’t going to win any championships.
That door didn’t crack open for the Warriors until late in the 2014 season, and it opened wide during the playoffs against the Clippers. Three games into the series, with LA’s Blake Griffin having his way with Lee, Warriors coach Mark Jackson realized he had an answer to his Griffin problem.
Jackson turned to Draymond Green, who played well over the final weeks of the season as Lee recovered from an injury. Green immediately got under Griffin’s skin and stayed there for the rest of the series. More than three years later, Green still terrifies Griffin, which is why the Warriors own the Clippers.
The Clippers won the series in seven games, but the Warriors were enlightened.
Jackson was fired after that series, and Steve Kerr was hired as the new coach. Kerr says he came in believing Lee would be his starting power forward. Lee had the misfortune of straining a hamstring in the final preseason game, pressing Green into the starting lineup. He has been there ever since.
As their 2014-15 season marched on, the Warriors coaching staff began carefully rationing Lee’s reserve minutes to obscure his defensive limitations. In two years, he had gone from a numbers beast and Curry’s chief sidekick to being marginalized on a team bound for a championship.
A member of the 2015 championship team, Lee also was the most glaring casualty of the Warriors amazing ride to the top of the NBA.
His arrival had given them a modicum of credibility, something utterly lacking at the time. That helped the franchise. His departure, traded to the Celtics in July 2015 -- five years to the day after he came to the Bay -- gave the Warriors some immediate cap relief. That also helped the franchise.
After two years bouncing around the league, from the Celtics to the Mavericks to the Spurs last season, Lee is hanging up his sneakers. He’s diving into life with his new fiancée, the tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. Life was good and it should stay good.
Lee has much about which to be proud. He did his job well enough for the Warriors, but not as well as they needed it to be done to reach the very top. No shame in that, none at all.