Count the Warriors among those looking to nab David Lee

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david_lee.jpgThe jury’s still out on exactly what kind of salary David Lee can command this off-season. Yet with Rudy Gay and Joe Johnson topping out on their earning potential, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see some team give Lee a max deal. Hooray for the Summer of 2010, where basketball paupers become princes (ahoy, Darko) and the middle class is elevated completely.

Lee has met with the Wolves, drawn interest from the Raptors, and been linked to just about every team with cap space (except the Knicks), and now the Warriors want to be a part of the fun and games. According to Marcus Thompson of Inside the Warriors, Golden State has their sights set on Lee and are looking to acquire him via sign-and-trade. Such a trade would practically necessitate Monta Ellis going to New York, which could actually be interesting for all parties involved.

The Knicks apparently have Amar’e Stoudemire locked down, but Mike D’Antoni desperately needs a point guard to run his offense. D’Antoni’s style is even more dependent on PGs than most, and as we’ve seen over the last few seasons, guys like Sergio Rodriguez and Chris Duhon just won’t cut it. Ellis would not only provide a stylistic fit (he’s been running and gunning with the Dubs his entire career), but also a far more talented alternative at the 1.

However, if New York was to take on Ellis’ salary, that would likely preclude them from signing another free agent. Monta and Amar’e would be an upgrade over last season’s Knicks in both talent and entertainment value, but is that really the future New Yorkers have been waiting for? Two talented but moody scorers, each a defensive liability in their own way?

Lee’s potential place on the Warriors would be a bit more complicated. Golden State has all kinds of bigs at the moment, and adding David to the rotation doesn’t make the picture any less muddled. Someone would clearly have to go. Ekpe Udoh, Andris Biedrins, Dan Gadzuric, Anthony Randolph, Brandan Wright, Ronny Turiaf, and Vladimir Radmanovic will all be vying for minutes at the 4 or 5, which doesn’t exactly leave room for Lee as a plug-and-play candidate.

However, such a move would be particularly notable for two reasons. The first is that it would demonstrate the Warriors’ faith in Stephen Curry as the team’s point guard. The second is that in Lee and Ellis, the Knicks and Warriors would be swapping two players who played in uptempo systems with very different results.

If given the keys to Mike D’Antoni’s offense, Monta Ellis could easily average 25+ points per game again next season. However, the problem with Ellis has rarely been the volume of his production, but rather its cost. Monta has been anything but efficient in his last two seasons with the Warriors, and while the team’s pace and the sheer number of scoring opportunities have still produced an impressive stat line overall, it’s a bit misleading.

If you look past Ellis’ per game numbers, his statistical resume starts to all apart. His PER last season was 16.7, which puts him somewhere between an average NBA player and a lower-tier star. He took 22 attempts per game to get to 25.5 points, which is fine but unspectacular. He turned the ball over quite a bit (which would be expected of a point guard, except that he didn’t generate all that many assists to balance them), didn’t get to the free throw line as much as he should have, and didn’t contribute much at all defensively. Ellis is good — and since his rookie season, that’s never been in doubt — but why isn’t he good enough to take advantage of an offensive system like that of the Warriors?

David Lee provides a very different case study in the effects of pace. Though is usage was high (though notably not as high as Ellis’) and the offense was fast, Lee actually remained a remarkably efficient player. His PER was an All-Star worthy 22.2, and Lee trumps Ellis in just about every significant per-possession metric. Some of those are inherent to their positional differences; obviously Lee is going to be the superior rebounder and shoot at a higher percentage, it’s just the a perk of being 6’9” rather than 6’3”.

Yet David also kept pace in the areas that were supposed to be weaknesses. His assist rate (per Basketball-Reference, “an estimate of the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while he was on the floor,”) is actually pretty competitive with Ellis’, and his effective field goal percentage, a measure which is created to benefit outside shooters, blows Monta’s out of the water. Lee may not be a perfect player (his defense leaves plenty to be desired), but he’s shown himself to be a far more efficient offensive machine than Ellis.

Maybe it’s simply a Golden State parasite that’s made Ellis into a shot-eating machine, but there’s only one way to know for sure. Ellis and Lee need to swap places to eliminate as much noise as possible in their statical profiles. I can’t say the trade would radically change either the Knicks or the Warriors outlook for the better, but if neither franchise is going to make a serious playoff run in the near future, wouldn’t it be prudent to use them as a giant Petri dish?

Gary Payton: “I don’t want to compare” Warriors and 1996 Bulls

OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA - MARCH 18:  Hall of fame basketball player Gary Payton watches his son Gary Payton II #1 of the Oregon State Beavers take on the Virginia Commonwealth Rams in the first half in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Chesapeake Energy Arena on March 18, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Everyone is tired of the who’s-better debate between the 73-win 2016 Warriors and the 72-win 1996 Bulls, but Gary Payton — whose Sonics lost to those Bulls in the Finals — actually has a reasonable take on the matter that most people should be able to agree with.

From an interview with DeAntae Prince of Sports Illustrated:

There have been a lot comparisons between the 72-win Bulls team you played against and this year’s 73-9 Warriors squad. How do you think the Warriors would stack up?

GP: “I don’t compare them and I don’t want to compare them. They’re two different animals. The Bulls did it with a physical type of basketball, we could hand check, we could do a lot of things. It was just a different era. They come back 20 years later and go 73-9. I couldn’t compare them, because if we put Golden State in that era a lot of teams, to me, would give them problems. Because we were more physical, we put our hands on them. A lot of our teams in this era we probably would have fouled out, we probably would have had a lot of problems.”

He may have his personal feelings about which era of basketball was “better,” but his fundamental point is true: they played different styles in different eras. The Warriors wouldn’t do as well in the 1990s, and the Bulls wouldn’t do as well in the 2010s. A hypothetical matchup between the two teams would come down in large part to which era’s rules were in place. We’ll never get a definitive answer, and that’s OK.

Steve Kerr says Andrew Bogut needs to stay out of foul trouble

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 16:  Andrew Bogut #12 of the Golden State Warriors fights for possesion of the ball with Steven Adams #12 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during game one of the NBA Western Conference Final at ORACLE Arena on May 16, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Steve Kerr needs a lot of things to go differently Thursday night if his defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors want to avoid elimination. That starts with Stephen Curry and Draymond Green needing to play much, much better.

But another is for Andrew Bogut to stay on the court — the Warriors defense is 15.9 points per 100 possessions better this series when he is on the court compared to off it. The Warriors are outscoring the Thunder when he plays.

So why not more minutes? Foul trouble, and Kerr wants that to change, as Carl Steward of the San Jose Mercury News reports.

“He’s fouling,” Kerr said. “He’s got 13 fouls in 56 minutes. He’s almost fouling out of every game in 10-15 minutes. He’s got to be smarter with his fouls. We need him out there — he was plus-7 (Tuesday) night in 11 minutes…

“When he’s out there, we rebound better,” he said. “We’ve got a good passer out of the post. We want to play Bogut more, but he’s got to stay on the floor.”

It’s not that simple for Bogut — the Thunder are aggressively attacking the rim and in the NBA the aggressors usually get the calls. Certainly Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka, and the rest of the Thunder front line is more athletic than Bogut.

Doesn’t matter, Bogut must figure out a way to impact shots in the paint, grab boards, and not foul. The Warriors are not winning this series going small, and if they are going to mount any comeback with a big on the court, it’s going to have to start with Bogut.

Jason Terry thinks Dwight Howard could remain with Rockets

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 18:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets waits on the court during their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Toyota Center on March 18, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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Everyone else thinks Dwight Howard is getting out of Houston this summer.

Jason Terry isn’t convinced.

Dwight Howard has a player option this summer, which he is expected to exercise and become a free agent. For one thing, he’d do it for the pay raise — he wants a max contract, starting at about $30 million. The other reason is he and James Harden have not blended in Houston, and Howard wants a fresh start.

But Jason Terry isn’t convinced yet. Terry was on SiriusXM NBA Radio and told Justin Termine and Eddie Johnson Howard may stay put. Here is the quote, via Hoopshype.

“I wouldn’t rule (a return) out. He has yet to opt out. Again, it’s just going to depend on if you get the right coach in there. At this point in his career, he’s not going to be the focal point offensively. They’ve made that clear. He’s gonna have to, if he remains in Houston, buy into the role fully, commit himself to setting screens, rebounding, running the floor, blocking shots and working on his free throws, obviously.”

In theory, a coach could come in and convince Howard to stay. In theory, I could capture Bigfoot and prove his existence to the world. Those have about the same odds of happening.

Forgetting the whole “Howard wants another max contract” thing, what Terry said about Howard accepting a role is the issue. Howard said he went directly to Rockets GM Daryl Morey and asked for a bigger role — and he was shot down. Howard does not want to accept a lesser role where his primary job is rebounding and defense, just like he never wanted to accept running more pick-and-roll and working less from the post even though he was much better at the former than the latter. Howard wants what Howard wants.

And I’d be shocked if he doesn’t want out of Houston.

Watch LeBron James’ 23 points during Game 5 win over Toronto

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A good rule of thumb: If LeBron James is getting few breakaway dunks, the other team is in trouble.

Enter the Toronto Raptors, who got to watch a dunking clinic by LeBron as he had multiple breakaways during the Cavaliers’ 38-point win on Wednesday night. LeBron played well, and the Cavaliers got a balanced attack from their stars — 25 points from Kevin Love, 23 each from LeBron and Kyrie Irving.

Watch LeBron’s night above. Toronto needs to find a way to keep him from having another game like this Friday.