Golden State Warriors: What if David Lee Never Became a Warrior?


The Golden State Warriors are still celebrating their first championship in four decades after a historic regular season that saw multiple records topple and indescribable performances by players up and down the roster. However, as many loyal fans know all too well, being a fan of Golden State was not always as easy as it recently has been.

In fact, being a fan of the Warriors for many of the 40 years between the franchise’s last two championships could be described as the most excruciatingly difficult task a sports fan could possibly undertake. (Okay, maybe not. But it’s close, right?)

What cannot be disputed, though, is how abysmal the franchise was for quite some time. Ravaged by an aloof owner in Chris Cohan, multiple failed draft picks, and inexperienced head coaches, the Warriors made a home out of the cellar of the league.

So, what is the link between these two teams? How can the laughing stock of the association suddenly become one of the best franchises — from top to bottom — the game of basketball has ever seen?

Well, drafting sharpshooter Stephen Curry in the 2009 NBA Draft certainly helped. However, if it was not for a move during the following offseason, Golden State may not have had the privilege to watch Curry become the player he is today — the MVP — as a member of their organization.

Heading into the 2009 NBA Draft, Curry’s agent and father wanted Curry to fall to the eighth pick. They both believed the New York Knicks were the better fit for Curry — and who could blame them? The Warriors were aware of Curry’s desire to be a member of the Knicks, making Golden State a secondary option at best. (At the time, Curry, his father, and his agent probably would not have put it quite so lightly.)

After Monta Ellis declared that winning was impossible with Curry roaming the backcourt and Stephen Jackson demanded a trade, the fears Curry’s camp had concerning Golden State came to fruition.

As per usual, the Warriors were in a tough spot. Golden State had to get their organization out of the gutter and back to respectability or watch their young, talented, point guard request a trade to a more deserving team or worse — wait for his rookie contract to expire with intentions of departing via free agency, leaving the Warriors with nothing to show for their first round pick.

After finishing 30 games under .500, Golden State got to work during the 2010 offseason. Within one week in July, the fortunes of the franchise would be forever changed.

On July 9th, 2010, the Warriors acquired All-Star David Lee from the New York Knicks via a sign-and-trade that sent Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf, and Kelenna Azubuike to New York. Just six days later on July 15th, Cohan sold the franchise to Joe Lacob and Peter Guber. Although many did not realize it at the time, those two moves would prove to be two of the greatest things to ever happen to Golden State.

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The new ownership group (Lacob specifically) receives much of the credit for the turnaround of the franchise — as they should. But, David Lee’s willingness to leave the spotlight and the Big Apple to join a historically pitiful team is an underappreciated one.

Lee was the first of many dominoes to fall for the Warriors, setting every other domino in motion. Without him and the hope he provided a ravenous fan base, Curry could have walked away.

The changes a Curry-less team would bring to the franchise are numerous and impossible to predict. What is probable, though, is that without Curry, Ellis would have stayed as the face of the franchise and would not have been traded for Andrew Bogut. Golden State would have then racked up more wins during the 2011-2012 campaign than they actually did, meaning their top-seven protected draft pick would belong to the Utah Jazz. Harrison Barnes would not be a Warrior and neither would Festus Ezeli nor Draymond Green (in all likelihood).

With the core of the current team gone, big names and free agents would have little interest in becoming a member of the Warriors. Golden State would have never been able to work out a sign-and-trade for Andre Iguodala and it would be comical to think the Warriors had any possible shot to lure the biggest names in basketball to join their squad — like they can do now (see: Kevin Durant-to-Golden State possibilities during the summer of 2016).

Without Lee choosing to be traded to Golden State, the current roster is nonexistent. Indubitably, this also means the Warriors would not have reached the playoffs in each of the last three seasons. If that were the case, Golden State would have one postseason appearance in the last 21 seasons.

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  • Everyone knows how long it took the Warriors to hit a home run on a draft pick (like they did on Curry) and if it were not for Lee, Golden State’s faithful fans could possibly still be waiting for a first-round pick to pan out.

    Without Lee, the Warriors’ last All-Star would be Latrell Sprewell, the championship drought would still be as dire as California’s drought and water shortage, and the solution could still be years away.

    If Mark Jackson was hired all the same despite the changes a Lee-less team makes, he would not have had anywhere near the level of success leading a team that he did. In turn, Steve Kerr would not be the current head coach. While Kerr’s decision to choose Golden State over the Knicks was easy in reality, the Warriors would not have been on Kerr’s radar given the circumstances laid out above. And even if Kerr was somehow interested in coming to the Bay Area, it is doubtful he would have turned down Phil Jackson and the Knicks — albeit a bad Knicks team — for a disappointing Golden State franchise.

    Almost every trace of progress the Warriors have made over the past few seasons would not have been possible if it were not for Lee and his surprising belief in the franchise. For that I thank you, David Lee. I thank you for bringing the Bay Area their first taste of lasting basketball success in decades.

    It is hugely appreciated.

    Next: Golden State Warriors Underdogs Heading Into 2015-2016 Season