David Lee looks to end Warriors' All-Star drought
When he worked as a broadcaster, Mark Jackson was adamant that David Lee didn't deserve to be an All-Star with the New York Knicks in 2010. No matter how eye-popping Lee's statistics looked, Jackson said, the power forward played on a bad Knicks team.
Now Jackson is coaching Lee on the Golden State Warriors, and he has changed his tune - but not his reasoning. The Warriors are winning, he said, and Lee is a big reason why.
''So I've got to be one of the guys now that he's on a good team putting up numbers,'' Jackson said, ''shouting to everybody that he deserves it.''
Whether Jackson's fellow coaches heed his call is another matter.
Voting by fans for the All-Star starters ended Monday night, and neither Lee nor point guard Stephen Curry - Golden State's other hopeful to play in Houston on Feb. 17 - are expected to earn that honor, with both far behind in the most recent results released by the league. Starters will be announced Thursday while the reserves, voted on by coaches, will be released next week.
With the Warriors (23-13) off to their best start in 20 years, Lee might be the leading candidate to end the NBA's longest All-Star drought. Golden State, which hosts the defending champion Miami Heat on Wednesday night, has not had a player make the team since Latrell Sprewell in 1997.
In the past, Lee's label around the league for being a player that puts up gaudy numbers on losing teams might have cost him a spot.
Lee's lone All-Star selection came after Allen Iverson dropped out because of a family illness. NBA Commissioner David Stern chose Lee as a replacement.
Lee remembers Jackson, a former Knicks point guard, and ESPN/ABC broadcast partner Jeff Van Gundy, a former Knicks coach, leading the charge against his selection. Lee insists he has never actually discussed the matter with Jackson, though he said he doesn't disagree with the argument.
''I think that's the biggest mark of an All-Star is guys that can make their teams better and try to win,'' Lee said. ''They didn't sign me here to put up numbers or to have fancy dunks. They signed me to win ballgames.''
Until now, that hadn't happened.
All five years Lee, drafted 30th overall out of Florida in 2005, played with the Knicks they had a losing record. Since signing an $80 million, six-year deal with Golden State, Lee has endured two losing seasons in the Bay Area. New York had a winning record each of the last two years and made the playoffs a season ago in Lee's absence.
Even Curry believes Lee's reputation has often kept his teammate from earning accolades. He remembers when Lee had ''the craziest triple-double I've ever seen'' in a game with the Knicks at Golden State on April 2, 2010.
Lee had 37 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in New York's 128-117 loss to the Warriors. He became the first player to have at least 30 points, 20 rebounds and 10 assists in a game since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had 35, 20 and 12 against the Warriors on March 5, 1976.
''But we won, so it was like a little blurb in the notes,'' Curry said.
Lee entered Monday ranking 10th in the NBA in points (19.9) and tied for fifth in rebounds (10.9) per game. He also leads the league with 16 games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds.
The difference? The Warriors, with one playoff appearance since 1994, are fifth in the Western Conference and among the most talked-about teams.
''He's earned his numbers in the past as well, but his record didn't allow anybody to talk about it,'' Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. ''He had great numbers in New York, he's had great numbers (with Golden State), now he's doing it on a winning team. And he's proving it, showing people just how smart he is. I think as good as he is as far as his shot and the fact that he rebounds and plays hard, I think his IQ to me is what stands out the most. And he shows that.''
Lee does not appear overly athletic and never has been.
He hustles, communicates constantly with teammates and encourages the crowd. As a lefty, he also can be a bit unorthodox, and his elongated strides and shooting angles make him difficult to defend. And unlike in years past, Lee's defense has started to earn praise, in large part because of Golden State's upgraded talent around him.
Rivers compared Lee to how NFL scouts often salivate over 40-yard dash times, even though the fastest players don't always pan out in games.
''A lot of people go to those stupid combines and look at the time in the 40 instead of looking at the film and see who gets there first,'' Rivers said. ''The guy that gets there first has the slower time than the guy in the 40. That probably means the guy that gets there first is smarter. He's a step ahead in thought, that makes him a step ahead in quickness and I think that's David Lee.''
Lee said a second All-Star selection might mean more than his first.
Not so much for him as for what it would mean for the Warriors, who have had a blank spot on the practice facility wall next to Sprewell's name for 16 years. Any individual recognition that comes the Warriors' way this season, Lee said, will be built on the basis of the team's success - and that's all he's ever really wanted.
''Whatever it may be, it's going to be because we've turned this thing around,'' Lee said. ''We've turned the culture around. We've turned the wins and losses around and we just need to keep it that way.''
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP