The Warriors addressed their last piece of urgent off-season business on Tuesday, but their work isn’t done yet.
Veteran David Lee and his $15.5-million tab were sent to the Boston Celtics in what amounted to a monstrous salary dump. In return, the Warriors received Gerald Wallace and another player, most likely Chris Babb or Phil Pressey, according to multiple sources. Lee and Wallace can become free agents after next season.
The move had been expected since early last season. The 32-year-old Lee no longer fit the master plan, and with his replacement Draymond Green signed to a five-year, $82 million deal and a hefty luxury tax bill on the horizon, financial relief became a top priority.
At face value, the deal is a win-win proposition for all concerned.
In Wallace, who was scheduled to be paid $10.1 million in the final year of his deal, the Warriors took on a far lesser contract. In the process, they saved an enormous amount of money — in excess of $40 million when luxury tax considerations are taken into account.
Babb and Pressley have $947,276 salaries that are not guaranteed next season.
Also 32, Wallace might not play a game in a Warriors uniform, as he could be released in order to further reduce the tax burden. In that case, a stretch provision would allow for equal payments of approximately $3.4 million in each of the next three seasons, amounts that would count against their salary cap total.
If Wallace stays put, he figures to be easier to trade in the final year of his contract. The swing forward averaged 1.1 points and 1.8 rebounds in 32 games with the Celtics last season.
When the trade becomes official on Thursday, the Warriors are expected to have 14 players under contract at a cost of approximately $94.4 million. The list includes recent first-round draft pick Kevon Looney, who agreed to terms on Tuesday. A $1.1 million qualifying offer for Ognjen Kuzmic also is on the table.
Another player could be added with the $3.4 million exception before next season, but that would boost the tax debt as well.
Also on general manager Bob Myers’ agenda is a contract extension for Harrison Barnes, who can become a restricted free agent after next season.
In Boston, Lee will have the opportunity to boost his value at a crowded power forward spot that includes Jonas Jerebko, Amir Johnson and Jared Sullinger among others.
A hamstring injury coupled with Green’s emergence cost Lee his starter job early last season. He averaged 7.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 18.4 minutes, his lowest totals in five seasons with the team.
Lee’s most significant contributions in his farewell season came in the playoffs, especially at the offensive end. His team averaged 111 points in the 39 minutes he was on the court compared to 103 when he was on the bench.
In a pivotal road victory in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, Lee scored nine points, grabbed five rebounds and handed out three assists in 15 minutes off the bench. The Warriors went on to win the next two games and the series.
Shortly afterward, team management reportedly reached an agreement with Lee and his agent Mark Bartelstein to find a suitable trade partner.
Among the most popular Warriors players in recent years, Lee took to social media to thank the fans and his former teammates.
“Want to take a moment to thank the entire Bay Area for what’s been the best 5 years of my life,” Lee wrote on Instagram. “The journey from a 23 win team to NBA champs is one I’ll never forget. Thanks to the most loyal fans in basketball for supporting me the entire way!
“This season’s success happened because of the amazing character and chemistry from the 15 men on the roster, the front office, coaches, and staff all wanting the same thing, to win a championship.
“Much Love for the Bay and for the Warriors and I’m truly blessed to have been a part of it! #GSW #FullSquad”
Lee was acquired for Kelenna Azubuike, Anthony Randolph, Ronny Tariff and two second round picks in July 2010. He finished with averages of 16.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in 327 games. Statistically, his best season was 2012-13, when he averaged 18.5 points and 11.2 rebounds per game and was an All-Star selection for the second time in his career.
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