NBA: Golden State Warriors at Sacramento Kings

“He’s a great player. If I put him out there for 30 minutes a night, I have no doubt he’d average 18 points and 10 boards” said head coach Steve Kerr before a 106-98 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers earlier this month. “He’d do his thing because he’s talented and skilled. But it’s all about how the puzzle fits together. And right now, he’s just been the odd man out.”

The odd man out title has followed David Lee throughout his tenure in the Golden State. When acquired from the Knicks via a sign (6 years for $80 million) and trade deal, he was coming off a season where he missed just one game, earned his first All-Star appearance and averaged 20.2 points, 11.7 rebounds on 55 percent shooting. Just days after outbidding then Oracle CEO Larry Ellison for the rights to the team, Lacob outbid the league for Lee. In the heralded 2010 free agent class that included the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Amar’e Stoudemire, the Warriors – i.e. Lacob — found their man. He was the inside scoring presence the franchise had been clamoring for decades and the perfect compliment to the team’s quick guards. New owner Joe Lacob, in his first move at the helm, let it be known he was anything but a passive owner.

-== Top 7 Warriors’ Moves In The Joe Lacob Era ==-

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Golden State Warriors

In the years that have transpired since that summer, Lee has earned another All-Star appearance (2013) and continued his statistical success with averages of 16.9 points, 9.5 rebounds on 51 percent shooting during his time with the Warriors. But, his time with the Warriors hasn’t gone without stark criticism. Even while putting up impressive numbers, it became clearer as each season progressed that the team simply couldn’t rely on Lee as a consistent two-way threat down low.

Lee’s own game hasn’t been without adjustments, however, as he’s gone through two coaching changes, different starting lineups and numerous injuries including a freak incident courtesy of Wilson Chandler’s teeth and an injured right hip which caused him to miss the majority of his first playoff appearance. Throughout the changes, Lee stood pat as the team’s starting power forward, a staple in the paint while various other acquisitions and departures were taking place.

This was until Lacob handed over the coaching reigns to Steve Kerr and a strained hamstring opened the doors to the Draymond Green era. Whether happenstance or simply a gift from the basketball gods, the Warriors have flourished with their new-look starting lineup. At 59-13 and first place in the Western Conference, it’s more than safe to say the move has benefited all parties – except for Lee.

While the team is reaching historical new heights, Stephen Curry leads the MVP race and Green continues to gain national praise in the midst of Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player honors, it’s Lee who’s become – once again – the odd man out. As the team’s highest paid player, it would be tempting for Lee to let any differences breathe in the public, but he’s maintained a positive outlook.

“When I was out, I realized that we have a special opportunity this year to be a great team,” Lee said back in February. “I’d probably be a little more agitated that I’m not starting if we were a below .500 team right now. But the fact that things are going so well, and I see how much having guys like Andre and I coming off the bench is helping the overall product, it makes it worthwhile.”

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors

In his previous nine seasons, Lee started 75 percent — 486 of 646 — of his games. This season, he’s started just one game: March 13 against the Denver Nuggets when Kerr opted to rest Curry, Klay Thompson and Iguodala with Marreese Speights already sitting due to suspension. It was an odd sight seeing the once prized acquisition being subjected to what was essentially a throwaway game.

Once seen as a savior of sorts, Lee has recorded six DNP-CD’s this season. While recovering from the hamstring injury early in the season, it’s clear now that Lee simply doesn’t have a consistent role anymore. With his once deadly midrange jumper non-existent – and Lee seemingly shying away from it — Kerr has opted either for smaller lineups (Iguodala, Livingston), defense (Festus Ezeli, James McAdoo) or a more determined scoring threat (Speights).

It’s unclear what Lee’s role will be come the playoffs, or whether he’ll have a role at all. If the team hits a scoring drought, Kerr can opt for Lee instead of Speights for some type of spark. Despite his tremendous decline in minutes, Lee is still the team’s best scoring threat inside. Unlike in previous seasons where the pick-and-roll and post-up plays were held in high regard, Kerr’s system built on ball movement and spacing has left Lee without any type of offensive foundation to build from.

Kerr has hit all the right notes in his first season. With the help of Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams, the team is (literally) the best it’s ever been. But, as Lee – and to a lesser extent Iguodala — has learned, success doesn’t come without sacrifice. Both were once franchise cornerstones now subjected to smaller roles off the bench. Lee’s lesson has been a tougher one, however, as he has never been a regular part of the rotation.

“David is a tremendous professional and he has certainly reacted very well to all this,” said Lacob. “It’s a very tough situation for a guy who has been an All-Star. He’s always been a starter, but look, we gotta do what we gotta do. The style of play has changed and this is how it’s going.”

Lee now suffers in the one area where he never has: his own stat line. He’s accepted it, and it’s the surrounding pieces – coaches, teammates and management – that has made the once unthinkable transition from starter to bench player a seamless one.

Pat Riley’s famous “disease of more” theory postulates, among other things, that “success is often the first step toward disaster.” But this quote was in reference to long term success subsequent to winning it all. If players like Lee and Iguodala continue to sacrifice their personal goals for the sake of the team (the “Big Three” Celtics and Glenn Rivers referred to this as “Ubuntu,” a Western African philosophical notion), may have the luxury of worrying about the “disease of more” after their championship parade.

Time will tell if Lee will find a role once again, but if the team stays on its current path, it’s unlikely he’ll be a prominent member of the full squad again.