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Why Lee has murky Warriors future following career year

NBC Sports
Warriors' Damion Lee

Damion Lee is coming off his most effective NBA season, posting career-high shooting percentages across the board. Before he was sidelined for the final three weeks, he was in the rotation, a reliable scorer off the Warriors’ bench.

If the Warriors ask for more of the same from Lee next season, he will have a longer walk to the scorer’s table. The “if” is substantial insofar as the 28-year-old shooting guard’s 2021-22 contract is not guaranteed.

Klay Thompson will come back early next season, if not at the start, to regain his customary position in the backcourt alongside Stephen Curry. Combo guard Jordan Poole is the team’s most dynamic bench scorer and the favorite to fill the Sixth Man role. Kent Bazemore, who played on a veteran’s minimum contract, implied that he’s willing to do it again.

And that’s not all. Coach Steve Kerr anticipates the roster to be improved through an infusion of veteran talent.

“If we can add a couple of vets, that would be great,” he said Monday. “During our five straight trips to the Finals we always had great veteran presence, and that matters. I'm of the thinking and the belief that Klay's return and our final 20 games (when the Warriors went 15-5) will be very much in the minds of potential free agents when they think about where they want to go.”

 

Team president Bob Myers is aligned with Kerr. If free agent Kelly Oubre Jr., who started at two guard, were to return -- it’s a long shot -- he would command wing minutes behind Andrew Wiggins and Thompson. Even if Oubre signs elsewhere, there’s zero chance of the Warriors running it back with the reserve two-guard trio of Mychal Mulder, Bazemore and Lee.

At least one of the three won’t return. Maybe two. Conceivably three.

Working against Lee is the fact that Bazemore last season was the team’s most versatile reserve wing defender. Then there is the fact that the Warriors played their best basketball with him out of the loop due to health and safety protocols. He missed the last 14 games, 10 of which Golden State won.

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It’s possible the Warriors could lean toward Lee simply because of his deep shooting. He shot 39.7 percent from beyond the arc, most memorably nailing a game-winner in Chicago that gave the Warriors their first victory.

Indeed, Lee scored in double figures in 15 games, including a season-high 21 points in a road win over the Memphis Grizzlies in March.

The question the Warriors have to ask is whether Lee can produce out of the rotation, as deep reserve. There is no shortage of reserves making a living strictly because they can come in cold and make jump shots. See, for example, ex-Warrior Quinn Cook.

If the Warriors believe Lee can be that guy, they’ll find a way to bring him back.

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