|David Lee expects big things from the Warriors. (Getty Images)|
Golden State Warriors forward David Lee has to give more and do less this year at the same time. The man who made huge bank in 2010 with a reported 6-year, $80 million deal in a sign-and-trade with the Warriors after five seasons in New York has been known for his gaudy stat lines. But that production hasn't translated into wins.
And if there's one key message that comes across when you speak to Lee it's that he's ready to flip that script. Lower numbers, bigger win totals.
Lee averaged 20 points and just under 10 rebounds last season for the Warriors in an injury-plagued, half-tank season that saw the nucleus of the team detonate in favor of a trade for injured Andrew Bogut who never returned. Bogut's still not back in full practice, and didn't travel with the team on its preseason trip to Denver this week. But signs point to an early season return, and the forming of a formidable front-court pairing with Lee, to go with the Warriors' crack shooters in Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry (making is own way back from repetitive ankle injuries).
Lee: Still am, yeah. Really just Call of Duty is really my main thing. It's just that during the season my biggest thing is I don't try and do a whole lot off the court. I get pretty tired and worn out. So video games and watching movies are my two biggest hobbies.
CBSSports: Have you played 2K13 yet?
Lee: You know I try not to play basketball games. I play basketball all day long.
CBSSports: Get a little worn out on it?
CBSSports: You're from St. Louis. Are you a big Cardinals fan?
CBSSports: Are you able to keep up with it?
Lee: During the lockout, which was awful, one of the silver linings was I got a box seat at all the home games. So yeah, I'm cheering those guys on. They had a real exciting victory the other night (Editor's note: UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE YEAR), so I'm really proud of them. It's tough now since they're going against the Giants; I have to keep my mouth shut. But I'm cheering for the Cardinals on the inside.
CBSSports: You've said in the past that Isiah Thomas has kind of gotten a bad rap. I'm part of the media, and I've made as many jokes as anybody else has about him. But it's impossible not to see that the players really love him, really connect with him. What is it we don't see and don't get about Isiah Thomas?
Lee: My biggest thing is that he's the one who drafted me. He was the one who gave me a chance to play, both as a general manager as a coach. I got to play big minutes. So I'll always be loyal to him.
I just feel like more than anything, he was playing the role of both general manager and coach for a while. I think his biggest mistake was putting trust in people who didn't deliver. I think that in itself is something that's important to do, but I don't think he's a bad person or has any ill intent. And in New York, and there's no problem with this, but whether it's with A-Rod or in basketball with "fill in the blank," I feel like the main thing is to find somebody to blame.
While I think Isiah deserves some blame for the players that were signed and losing, I think the blame has to fall on more places than just one. I think it's always easier to kind of rally and kick the guy who's already down. I've always been loyal to him because he gave me my shot. I think everybody makes mistakes along the way, but overall I think he's a good guy.
CBSSports: Tough year last year, you know, for the whole team, and I wanted to know how you guys deal with something like that. You know, the regular season is a grind even for the winning teams. It's a long schedule and last year you had the lockout schedule. You had all the injuries: How do you deal with going through a season like that?
Lee: Injuries are part of the game; you can't control that. For us, you look forward to better days. Right now, we have a lot of depth at every position. We have the arrival of a true center [in Bogut] who I think is going to be a guy who's going to make my job a lot easier and really help our team defensively. Last year, we had some dark days when we had only nine guys in uniform, and there were some tough times with young guys getting minutes. I think you just build for the future.
This year, we have a chance to be one of the better Warriors teams in recent memory. We still have a lot of work to do, but you just hang tight for days like this.
CBSSports: In 2011, you said you needed to be great, that you needed to score and rebound for that team to succeed. What do you need to do for this year's team?
Lee: I need to continue to be a leader. They're going to rely on my low-post scoring and my rebounding as well. Last year, we were once again the worst rebounding team in the league. I think in part that was because due to a lack of size inside. I was playing the five a lot of the time. So something that we need to improve as a team in is our rebounding.
I wouldn't be surprised this year if my numbers go down a little bit just because there's more balance on our team. I don't think me scoring 22 points a game, 25 points a game, shooting all the shots is necessarily going to translate into us being a playoff team. I welcome the fact that whatever my numbers end up being, that we can get a whole lot more wins on the board.
CBSSports: Are you excited about being able to play in more space at the 4? Are you excited to have a little more space to operate?
Lee: Yeah, you know having space to operate not only in the pick and roll but out on the floor, is really crucial. I've worked countless hours and years and years on my jump shot. From 15-17 feet, I feel very confident I can become one of the better jump shooters in the league at the 4 spot. I like playing in the pick and roll, passing, and making my teammates better. I think it's going to be a great opportunity. Having a true big man down low in Andrew Bogut, with all the shooters we have, when I'm driving the ball, it's going to be hard to know where to help off of, because we have a lot of great catch-and-shoot guys and another post guy that can catch the ball low and finish.
CBSSports: What are some of the little adjustments you have to make playing next to Bogut?
Lee: You mentioned it with spacing; that's something we're both going to have to get used to. I think the most exciting part is you have two big men now, who can use both hands, who love to pass the ball and can play at the high post and low post. You see it a little bit with guys like Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, in a duo that can both pass the ball and are effective at both the high post and the low post. That creates a lot of matchup problems for other teams. It gives us a lot of versatility with what we can run.
CBSSports: You're ambidextrous; do you still catch guys off guard with that?
Lee: The thing I hope that creates is that guys who guard me don't have it locked in on one way to guard me. Being able to use both hands and feel confident with right hand/left hand jump hooks, it's a lot easier for me, because I can just read the defense and get the shot I want. Some days I get it easier than others, but it's good for keeping guys off balance more than anything else.
CBSSports: Bogut has had quite a few freak injuries, like the fall with his elbow, and you had a serious one when Wilson Chandler had his tooth stuck in your arm and it was infected. Sometimes those things can take a long time to get over even mentally. Did it take a while to get over that experience?
Lee: No, no, you know, shoot, I was back playing two weeks after it happened. Biggest problem was I probably wasn't ready to be back playing. But I was with a new team and a new contract, and I felt like the right thing to do was to get back on the court as quickly as possible.
But I don't get rebounds and try to keep my elbow tucked in to keep it away from guys or anything like that. With Andrew, he hasn't had chronic knee tendonitis or anything like that. He's had two bad freak accidents, and overall I think he's a very tough player. The years I had to guard him in the New York when I was the 5, he's one of the nastiest players in the league. He doesn't back down from anyone. We're excited to have him on our team.
CBSSports: You want to make the playoffs. You want to win a championship. Outside of those things, what do you want for your career going forward?
Lee: The biggest thing is to be on a winning team. I've done a lot of things individually with numbers. I think we're a playoff-caliber team. We're not a championship-caliber team; we still have some pieces to put in yet. But I think realistically we could be a 5-through-8 seed in the playoffs this year if everything falls into place.
I think all the individual stuff will come. If you look at my numbers around All-Star [time] last year and all the stuff we were doing. LaMarcus Aldridge makes the All-Star team, and I don't. I think if Portland and Golden State's records are reversed, it's probably the opposite way [I and I make the All-Star team]. And he's a great player; I'm not talking bad about him at all. But I think all the All-Star appearances, all the respect you want to get, that comes with being on a winning team.
You know, unfortunately by the time I was in my third year in New York and I finally had some say in the team and got some major minutes, we went into the whole cap-saving thing to try and get LeBron. Then I got here, and this was a team that hadn't made the playoffs in a long time. We've kind of moved away from where we were, and this is one of my first years to really make a difference and be on a winning team.
CBSSports: You've always played on fast teams, including in New York with Mike D'Antoni, Is this going to be maybe the slowest team that you've ever played on?
Lee: Probably since my rookie year, when we had Eddy Curry, those guys in the middle, and Quentin Richardson. We played slower basketball; we had a very veteran team. I think this year, not only with the depth we have, but the size we have, we don't have to play Don Nelson "trickery" basketball, where you have a point guard guarding a center and try and trick people and score a lot of points. We can actually play standard basketball where we can face teams head-on. That's going to be a welcome sight. Playing the 5 spot, and I'm sure I'll still do it some the year, but it's one where you have an advantage on one end but you give it up on the other. Sooner or later against the good teams that doesn't work. I'm excited just to have the horses this year.
Coach said in a meeting the other day, "Last year, I had you guys do some things where even if you did them right, there were certain games we were still going to lose. But this year, if we lose, it's because we're not doing things right, because we have the talent and the numbers now, we're going to win games."