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Hustler's Anthem: The David Lee deal

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A deal that never happened. On July 1st several NBA news sites reported that the Grizzlies had prepared an offer sheet for David Lee of about $10 million dollars a year for five years. Since that time all those rumors have been removed, in fact it's almost impossible to find any evidence of the offer. In fact this NY Post blog entry seems to be the last credible site with any mention, besides Straight Outta Vancouver of course. Of course the rumor never came to fruition since later that day news of the Zach Randolph trade broke.

What could have happened had the Randolph trade not gone down? Would Lee even be a better option? After the jump we'll take a long hard look at all the possibilites then give you the final vote.

To best evaluate the scenario, we need to put ourselves in the position of the Grizzlies front office and evaluate any of these paths by two criteria. First we have to evaluate any moves from a basketball value perspective. Sadly that includes looking at the deals from a cost effectiveness standpoint. Secondly the moves have to be evaluated from the perspective of possibility. Last summer the Grizzlies got burned when their target free agent, Josh Smith, had his offer sheet matched by the Atlanta Hawks. We couldn't afford to platoon Darrell Arthur, Darko, and any rookie we drafted at the power forward slot again this season, so hanging our hats on a deal that was only marginally likely to get done wouldn't be wise.

From a basketball perspective, David Lee and Zach Randolph are somewhat similar in skills, but completely different in the way their skillsets are manifested on the court. Both players a full sized power forwards at 6'9" tall, and their size at 250 lbs. makes them capable of filling in at center. Neither, however, is capable of taking minutes as a small forward. They both rebound exceptionally well, but are otherwise limited defensively. Most notably neither block any shots, though both get about one steal a game.

They are very different in their career trajectory though. Lee is a rising talent, all-world boy scout, and plays his absolute hardest every night to gather his impressive stats. Randolph on the other hand is a known commodity. That is, he is known as a 20-10 guys, but also a headache for coaches, management, and fans. He's largely regarded as one of those natural talents who has never had to try hard so he really doesn't seem to push the envelope, or even get in shape for that matter.

Since these players are similar in contributions, its absolutely necessary to take a look at what the advanced statistics on tell us, these from basketball-reference.com and basketballprospectus.com:

PER TS% eFG% ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% TOV% USG% ORtg DRtg +/- 40 WARP WP82
Randolph 19.6 .531 .494 9.9 23.2 16.3 11.5 10.4 28.1 108.0 105.4 -2.8 9.8 5.1
Lee 19.0 .590 .552 9.6 27.9 18.4 10.1 12.0 19.2 107.8 106.1 -3.3 5.1 2.2

So while Randolph is the more productive player in terms of PER, he also uses up almost 10% more of his teams possessions to accomplish only a slight boost. This is mostly due to his poor shooting efficiency, which is a function of his pretty poor shot selection. Lee seems to be slightly better at rebounding, but I would take that with a grain of salt. Randolph had Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby playing in the frontcourt with him, Lee typically had Al Harrington. Because of the huge gap in offensive efficiency and the well above average DRB%, Lee ends up with a much higher Wins Added over Replacement Player and much higher Wins Per 82 games.

With O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, and Mike Conley all needing the ball to be effective, Lee's lower usage would seem to have been a particularly good fit for the Grizzlies. Additionally he is just the right age to grow with our current core, and a positive influence on locker room culture. Finally he is a major fan favorite because of his hustle, which is something the Grizzlies have lacked since Shane Battier was traded. David Lee might not have be a sexy pick who sold tickets, but Zach Randolph is the kind of player who scares season ticket holders away.

As far as costs go, no matter how the Grizzlies would have acquired he would likely have cost about $10 million a year. $12 million at most, which would probably be overpaying for his production. On the other hand Zach Randolph has a 2 year $32 million deal left, so pretty much anything looks reasonable in comparison. If management could have worked out a sign-and-trade with Darko involved it would have only cost between $3 and $5 million to make a sizeable upgrade.

I noted there were two ways we could have gotten Lee, by signing him and the Knicks not matching the offer. The Grizzlies were prepared to offer $10 million a year for what was thought to be 5 years, which many assumed would scare the 2010 conscious Knicks away. Seth over at Poasting and Toasting disagreed:

It's hard to say what Donnie Walsh is willing to shell out for David Lee. He says he's looking for $7 or 8 million a year for any long-term deal. That's without a single offer sheet from another team, though, so one can't really know how high he'd go with competition. My guess is Walsh would be willing to pay $9 or $10 million a year for Lee's services, but just hasn't been tested.

Alternatively we could have traded for a newly re-signed Lee. A package like Darko's expiring contract and the #2 pick, which would have guaranteed the Knicks Rubio, for Lee and the #8 pick was what I assumed would be enough to swing the deal, though Seth again wasn't so sure if the Knicks would be so quick to part with Lee:

I doubt Walsh would have traded that high, as Rubio, Evans, and Curry were the real targets. Either way, in what was perceived to be a weak draft, I'm thinking no. Again, I really have no idea.

So in the end let's assuming the Grizzlies include the #27 pick, which we used to select DeMarre Carroll to get the deal up to terms. Additionally they lose the opportunity to select Hasheem Thabeet, who is believed to be our center of the future and a defensive stopper.

At the #8 pick the Chris Wallace would perhaps have chosen DeMar DeRozan or Terrence Williams instead, who both would have worked as 6th men with O.J. Mayo moving over to log minutes point guard. Eventually either would have been strong candidates to play SG alongside Mayo a year or two down the road. We could likely still have chosen DeMarre Carroll at the #36 pick, but then would have lost Sam Young.

Our frontcourt rotation would have then included David Lee and Marc Gasol starting, Darrell Arthur and Hakim Warrick logging rotation minutes off the bench. Hamed Haddadi would have filled some minutes as the true backup center for Marc Gasol.

With this all in mind, I'm going to rate the basketball value of the David Lee path as a 7 out of 10. And, given Seth's pessimism about the possibility, I'll rate the likelihood about a 5 out of 10, which is pretty risky for a team as desperate for a starting power forward as the Grizzlies.

All that's left is the question, if you could, would you rip a hole in the time-space continuum to take a shot at Lee?