With the Golden State Warriors not being able to trade David Lee on draft night, the assumption was that the next easiest time to move his contract would be sometime after the big free agent signings went down — teams who missed out on their primary free agent targets might be willing to consider taking on Lee's contract for a year to plug a hole.
With things moving rather rapidly over the last few days, the dust is already starting to settle and we now have a much better idea of who might listen to an offer involving Lee.
Who has the cap space?
Bobby Marks has already outlined the teams who still have cap space and there are two who have enough to fully absorb Lee's contract without much concern: the Orlando Magic and Portland Trail Blazers.
Teams w/ Space: DEN (6.5), DET (3.8), IND (13.1), LAL (5.1), MIL (3.7), ORL (17.4), PHI (15.7), PHX (6.9), POR (24.3), SAC (7.7), UTH (9.4)— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) July 5, 2015
Philadelphia has just about enough, but let's be honest: whatever they're doing with their roster, 32-year-old power forwards don't seem to be part of the plan.
Who has the need?
Jeff Cheal already outlined the cases for both Orlando and Portland on Friday and SB Nation's Tim Cato followed that up with an update on their situations yesterday. Both agree that Orlando might be interested in offering Channing Frye. As Jeff noted, Portland might not actually need Lee given other moves they've made this offseason but could be looking for someone to fill starter's minutes with LaMarcus Aldridge headed to the San Antonio Spurs.
Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel also mentioned Lee as an option for the Magic when free agency opened and, honestly, at this point Lee is the only option of the four he mentioned who is still available. And Lee probably does fit their needs in at least two ways, based on what Robbins described.
David Lee, who is likely to be traded by the Golden State Warriors, might be someone the Magic would consider pursuing...The Magic entered free agency with several needs: a power forward, a rim protector, at least one veteran in the prime of his career who can help the youngsters win close games and a second- or third-string point guard.
Right now, it's hard to find better veteran experience to help youngsters than adding a guy who graciously sacrificed a starting spot on a playoff team to take a back seat on a championship team. And, as Brian Schmitz of the Sentinel outlined on Friday, with Frye not working out at power forward last season, recently-re-signed Tobias Harris may well be their best option at power forward right now — depending on how new coach Scott Skiles wants to play with this team, David Lee could be enticing for them (even if some Magic fans seem to be steadfastly against the idea as a matter of principle). Robbins also suggested that the Magic could execute a trade (of Frye) for Lee and then sign Harris using their Bird Rights.
However, bringing up that question of need leads to another team that might have just enough cap room to be interested in dealing for Lee if they could send out other pieces: the Indiana Pacers.
With the Pacers agreeing to trade Roy Hibbert to the L.A. Lakers, David West opting out to look for a contender to play for (though not likely the Warriors), and Luis Scola apparently moving elsewhere, Lee could be of use in the Hoosier State. Grant Apseth of Vavel.com detailed Lee's value to the Pacers even before the Hibbert trade and one would have to think that he's even more valuable with Hibbert definitely leaving — once you set aside the matter of Lee's contract, there really isn't a better power forward clearly available (especially for the Pacers, who obviously won't be re-signing David West and probably can't do a better recruiting job than Rudy Gay for the services of Josh Smith).
The Pacers would probably need to include either C.J. Miles or Ian Mahinmi, who will be entering the final year of his contract, in a deal to make the numbers work, but it might be the most mutually beneficial opportunity given that the Pacers have a real shot at making the playoffs if Paul George is able to return to form.
And re-uniting Lee with former Warrior Monta Ellis? Priceless.
Who has the desire?
Entering the holiday weekend, both the Lakers and New York Knicks also reportedly had interest in David Lee. However, that figures to have changed a bit: the Lakers already have 2014 draft pick Julius Randle and have agreed to trade for Hibbert, which means Lee might not make all that much sense for them even on a one-year rental contract. Meanwhile, the Knicks' agreement to sign Robin Lopez precludes them from absorbing Lee's contract and ESPN's Ian Begley reports a larger trade is unlikely.
Although the deals with the Knicks or Lakers wouldn't accomplish the goal of clearing out salary, there's reason to believe that the Warriors might end up going for one of those: Tim Kawakami reported on Thursday that Joe Lacob wants to make "a good basketball trade" involving Lee. That would seem to suggest that if the Knicks or Lakers offered something of value — and Owen Dillon of Blue Man Hoop explored what the Knicks could offer at length — that the Warriors might go for it; the issue is simply that those teams don't have near the financial flexibility of some others.
Of course, any of those other teams with a little bit of cap space left could spring for Lee, especially Eastern Conference teams that believe he could catapult them into a playoff berth. And then, as we've discussed around here before, Bob Myers could also still try to get creative to find a trade for a combination of guaranteed and non-guaranteed contracts that could help lower the cap hit after the trade is completed.
@unstoppablebaby left a comment on the blog - short answer is I would do it in a second - I guess you get $5M in savings— CelticsBlog (@celticsblog) July 3, 2015
Regardless, all of this means something important as free agency drags on through the summer: the Warriors are not yet out of options for moving Lee and are probably in a good position to wait for the best possible offer rather than desperately making the first deal that comes their way.
For more on this topic, check out our David Lee trade rumor storystream.