Sources said the Warriors have privately acknowledged to Lee and his agent, Mark Bartelstein, that it would be unfair to the former All-Star to ask him to continue to serve in a limited role next season after Lee accepted his diminished minutes without complaint all season.
Although discussions on this topic were essentially tabled by both sides until after the playoffs, sources said Wednesday that the Warriors and Bartelstein have resolved to work together to "come up with a good solution" to find a new home for Lee this offseason.
Lee, 32, lost his starting spot to Draymond Green early in the season due to bad timing as much as anything else, as he suffered a hamstring injury after a strong showing in training camp. Once the 67-win Warriors launched to a 21-2 start with Green as the starter, Lee was forced to settle for spot minutes in the midst of the fifth season of a six-year, $80 million deal he signed with Golden State in the summer of 2010.
Scheduled to earn $15.4 million next season, Lee earned a measure of redemption in the midst of the NBA Finals when Warriors coach Steve Kerr suddenly embraced small-ball lineups after Golden State could only manage a split at home in the first two games. Lee served as the first big man off Kerr's bench in Games 3, 4 and 5.
In the Game 3 loss to the Cavaliers, Lee had 11 points, four rebounds and two assists in 13 minutes. In a Game 4 victory, Lee totaled nine points, five rebounds and three assists in 15 minutes.
"It's been a really interesting year," Lee said during an interview with the NBA Insiders on ESPN Radio after Game 1 of the Finals, in which he didn't log a minute of playing time. "...I've actually gotten to see kind of the other side of the NBA. I've always been the guy that's out there for 35 to 40 minutes. I've never really, I don't think, had the true respect for guys ... to see guys that don't get a chance to play very often and come out and produce on a consistent basis -- I never knew how difficult that was.
"So it's really been a great learning experience for me this year. And while it's been frustrating as a competitor to not be in there as much as I want to be in there, it's been kind of cool to let go of my ego this year and say, 'Hey, this is about the team.'"
The Warriors are nonetheless expected to aggressively explore the trade market for Lee in conjunction with the NBA draft on June 25 and with free agency starting July 1. Sources say Golden State is determined to match any offer that comes for Green in restricted free agency and also intends to discuss a contract extension with forward Harrison Barnes, which only increases the likelihood that Lee moves on.
"I'll have chances from here. It's not like I'm trying to prove to people that I'm able to play this game," Lee told ESPN Radio after Game 1. "Everybody knows that I'm capable. But it's been kind of cool to put the ego aside and say, 'Hey, this is about something bigger than me.' There was always the talk when I was in New York that I was a guy that could put up numbers but couldn't help the team win ... [that] it was all about me and not the team.
"A lot of guys that are on bad teams that put up big numbers kind of have that rap and that's not what I want to be known as. I want to be known as a great teammate and a great competitor. So I think I've proven that this year. That my attitude hasn't changed the entire season. I've been ready."
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