David Lee is sitting in front of his locker pregame in the visitors locker room at Madison Square Garden. Dressed fully in the famous Celtic green uniform, the one-time Knick is in a familiar surrounding, encircled by both Boston and New York beat writers, only this time Lee is ready to embrace an unfamiliar role for this young Boston team: the veteran mentor.
“Hopefully I’ll get a chance to play a little bit – that’s different from last year,” jokes Lee to the throng of reporters gathered in front of him. He’s holding court in a Celtics locker room that is seemingly devoid of any other player of interest, judging by the amount of media crowded around him.
It was an admittedly strange season for Lee in ’14-15 – one that culminated in an NBA championship, but for Lee to taste the ultimate success, he was one of the players that Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr asked to sacrifice their game for the greater good. A preseason injury allowed Draymond Green to usurp Lee in the starting lineup. Green emerged as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and emotional leader, while Lee struggled to find a consistent role off the Warriors’ deep bench. He appeared in just 49 games and averaged 18.4 minutes per game during the regular season (his lowest number since his rookie year). That number then dropped to just 8.2 minutes in the post-season.
“Of course [last season had] an unbelievable ending to it, and being able to contribute to winning a title–it was all worth it,” continues Lee. “Either way, just being able to get in the rotation [in Boston] and play, [I’m] looking forward to that.”
Heading into a contract year it made little sense to remain on the Warriors’ bench, and both the team and Lee’s camp agreed to mutually part ways. He was traded to Boston in July for Gerald Wallace and Chris Babb.
“I thought this was a great fit,” says Lee of the move. “Of course, the team last year finished on a great note making the playoffs, and I think we’ve made some really great additions this off-season and I think we’re going to be even better.
“To me it was a young team where I think I fit in perfect and I can be a leader, and be a guy who brings some leadership qualities to this team, and helps us become even better. More than anything it’s just bringing who I am, and what I do to a new situation, and just try to be a hard worker and do things the right way and give advice where I can, because I have been through a lot in this league.”
Once upon a time Lee would be counted on to provide a double-double every night. His career averages of 14.7 points and 9.5 rebounds speak to his ability to score when required, and an uncanny knack for grabbing boards. But in Boston, Lee will be looked upon more as a leader and a mentor to these young Celtics, alongside fellow off-season Boston acquisition Amir Johnson, both of whom have ten-years experience in the league. The next closest Celtic has five.
Now, as an NBA championship winner, Lee can impart a champions’ mentality onto the younger core; many of whom only experienced their first playoff action last season.
“More than anything, it’s just about the consistency of bringing it every single day,” states Lee about the type of mentality he wants to instill. “We were blessed last year with a team at Golden State that had a couple of guys that were top ten players in the NBA. We don’t have that here, instead, I think we have unbelievable depth at every position, and I think we have a group that really works hard with great chemistry; like the team last year at Golden State did.
“We use our strengths to our advantage, and one of things is coming to work every day and we’re a very well coached team, so we’re taking what Brad has to say, and executing it day in and day out.”
So far through his first three games of the Celtics preseason, Lee is certainly giving the C’s what they need. He’s led the team in rebounding in two of the three contests, and is playing the type of cerebral basketball that a young ball-club covets.
Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens welcomes the experience that Lee brings, but cautions that the player is still learning an entire new system himself.
Says Stevens: “Anytime that you come into a new situation, and you’re a veteran player, people are going to look to you for experience and advice. At the same time, sometimes, we all forget that he’s learning a whole new system, so we can’t expect him to be able to give them every answer and at the same time, he’s got a lot of really good insights from what they’ve done in Golden State, what he did here in New York – different systems that he’s played for, the way teams have operated, different things teams have done together on the road, just little things that are good for our players to hear.
“Even though we’ve got ten guys back, we’ve still got five guys under 22-years old so the more experience we can have shared with them, the better.”
Feature image credit: Jason Szenes