OAKLAND — The bus ride promises to be much shorter this time around.
After 577 regular-season games, David Lee finally stepped on the court in an NBA postseason game in April when the Warriors squared off against the Denver Nuggets in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs. Prior to tipoff, he told coach Mark Jackson: “This is the longest bus ride I've had.”
But Lee's first playoff game ended in disappointment. He tore his right hip flexor in the fourth quarter and wound up watching most of the Warriors' exhilarating playoff run from the bench.
“It was horrible timing,” Lee said. “But I really challenged myself after I got hurt to still find a way to make an impact.”
With a new season set to tip off at Oracle Arena on Wednesday, Lee is determined to make an impact on a Warriors squad that appears destined to make a run at a playoff berth again this year.
“I'm looking forward to being in that same position this year and helping us to go even further in the playoffs,” Lee said. “I learned a lot from what happened last year — just how fragile this can be.”
In 2012-13, Lee led the NBA in double-doubles (56); he was the only player in the league to average 18 points, 11 rebounds and three assists; and he earned the Warriors' first All-Star bid since 1997.
After his injury, Lee played a limited role in the Warriors' playoff run, seeing 36 minutes of action over 12 games. In the offseason, Lee's name surfaced in trade rumors involving LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers and Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
But instead of indulging in the negativity, Lee focused on bettering himself, losing 8 pounds and 6 percent of his body fat. He also added strength and lean muscle after undergoing hip flexor surgery in May.
“I just turned 30. I'm trying to not come in and be out of shape and work from behind the eight ball,” Lee said. “It's more difficult than it used to be. I used to be able to wait all summer and then a couple weeks before the season, I'd turn it on.”
Lee said he improved his body over the summer by altering his lifestyle and making sound decisions every time he eats.
“I didn't want to do something that wasn't sustainable and say, 'All I'm going to eat is salad,' that's not realistic,” he said. “I just tried to stay away from fast food, fried foods and kept the drinking to a minimum.”
In August, Lee started to scrimmage again and he said he feels 100 percent.
Jackson said Lee's commitment to being in top shape left an impression on the Warriors' younger players.
“It makes a statement,” he said. “Here's a guy coming off of great success, an All-Star year, second round of the playoffs — but he's not satisfied. I've seen guys come back out of shape and not serious, so I truly appreciate when a pro comes back bigger, better, stronger and a more complete basketball player.”
Lee could see more minutes at center this season with the arrival of Andre Iguodala. The versatile forward gives Jackson plenty of options, including moving Harrison Barnes to power forward and Lee to center.
Lee said he's eager to contribute wherever he's needed as the Warriors look to build on last year's success.
“I don't think making the playoffs is our goal,” Lee said. “I think taking it as far as we can in the playoffs is our goal and I think if we play the way we're capable of playing, we can be as good as anybody in the West.”