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2011 NBA Lockout: David Lee, Ekpe Udoh and Useless Salary Cap Space

In a lackluster free agent market marred even more by the 2011 NBA lockout, the $7 million dollars that the Warriors have in salary cap space is most likely not enough to sign any sexy free agents like the highly coveted power forward Nene. When compared to current unbalanced and polar opposite skill sets of Warriors no-defense David Lee and no-offense backup Ekpe Udoh, Nene looks like a more complete package and will demand possibly twice more than the Warriors even have space for.

While it is fair to critique these limited players, such as Lee, whose contracts have saddled the franchise with more cap problems in the near and long term future, having cap space does not necessarily indicate that the Warriors could even draw star powered free agents (even of the Nene variety). Sorry folks, but David Lee is about as good as its going to get for the Warriors.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury laments that the Warriors sign-and-trade with New York, exchanging Anthony Randolph, Ronny Turiaf, and Kelenna Azubuike for David Lee's 6-year $80 million dollar contract was Chris Cohan's swan song of sorts. It was the perfect and exemplary period, exclamation mark, or question mark to further put his stamp on a Warriors future that he no longer was physically apart of. But Kawakami focuses on Lee's shortcomings to suggest that salary cap flexibility as a 20-something win team is a much better future than the next 5 years of Lee's contract, which Kawakami sees as offering at best a middling 36 win team witnessed this year. Without Lee's contract, Kawkami argues, the Warriors would have more cap flexibility to make the moves they want to make. Or they could accumulate assets in a higher draft pick position.

Kawakami is point and any smart team when building their future from the ground up follows this guideline that Kawakami outlines. But my argument is that, hey, this is the Warriors.

It's not that the Warriors are cursed, always in the wrong position at the wrong time. In my opinion, the Warriors are just not a free agent destination and history has shown that free agents of the superstar ilk have shunned the Warriors.

Several years ago, the Warriors were shunned by both Baron Davis, who wanted to return home, and Elton Brand, who took less money to, also, be closer to home. Wanting to go home are factors that are beyond the Warriors control and leverage. But, the place of the San Francisco Bay Area is not the shiny, glimmering, elbow-rubbing with stars place of Los Angeles, which is a place of unimaginably career possibilities that these young professionals are looking for. Unless some of these athletes are looking to get into the start-up tech game (which isn't such a bad idea), Los Angeles is the place to be as a career move...or for their social life. 

This isn't some argument that Los Angeles is cooler place than the Bay Area. It's highlighting the financial possibilities that Los Angeles could afford for a celebrity looking for more ways to expand his brand. Take for example last season, Lebron James considered the Los Angeles Clippers, a team whose owner, historically, is a much worse person than Warriors Chris Cohan. That's saying a lot. 

In addition, the Warriors, last season, were a team without a direction and hadn't been for a long time. Players want to win as they make money (most players at least) and walking into the black hole of the NBA (the Warriors) isn't appealing for anyone no matter how much money the Warriors are willing to throw at them. The Miami Heat and New York Knicks are every indication of this trend. Even landlocked places like Oklahoma City are better destinations than the Bay Area given their young and proven talent in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The Portland Trailblazers, a Westcoast neighbor, is a much more ideal relocation for an NBA player, too, for the same reasons and you could easily make the argument that the Bay Area has way more social options than the Pacific Northwest.

While I completely agree with Kawakami that the Warriors made some poor financial decisions that will impact their future in the long run, having cap flexibility doesn't guarantee that players would take more money to relocate to the Warriors. There are things beyond the Warriors control, such as nightlife and celebrities of Los Angeles. But having a winning brand of basketball would definitely be the first step in attracting free agents AND retaining players that they think should be part of their future. Lee is solid player and a huge upgrade, talent-wise, for the Warriors last season.

But we have to wonder why Lee was available to the Warriors when no one else was.

Until the Warriors prove they can be winners, I find it unlikely that star free agents, let alone Nene, would want to relocate to the Warriors. Owner Joe Lacob looks like he's doing the best that he can with the cards he was given and it looks like it's going to take a while to wipe out some of the Cohan-era dealings. But Warrior fans probably will have to stick with David Lee because he's probably as good as it gets until they can put together a winning program.