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NBA PM: Lee Brings Veteran Leadership to Celtics

After helping the Warriors win a title, David Lee is embracing his role as veteran leader on the Celtics.

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There is no lack of depth on the Boston Celtics. They have logjams at several positions and are stacked with young talent. However, what there is not an overabundance of is veteran leadership.

Not including those signed to the training camp roster, the average age on the Celtics is 24 years old, the same as the team’s most tenured player, Avery Bradley. There’s a combined five rookies and sophomores on the roster.

This offseason, the team traded its oldest player, Gerald Wallace, to the Golden State Warriors for another 32-year-old: David Lee. The 11-year veteran is the only member of the Celtics who is over 30 and just one of three players who were in the league when the Celtics won the title in 2008.

Last season, Lee was on the bench for most of the Warriors’ championship run. The lack of playing time had more to do with the system and combinations versus his ability to make an impact. Last year, the forward’s role was nearly cut in half – 7.9 points and 5.2 rebounds in 18.4 minutes off the bench compared to 18.2 points and 9.3 rebounds in 33.2 minutes as a starter in 2013-14.

Lee has an opportunity to be a key contributor on the Celtics, where the starting five and units are still a work in progress. More significantly, he is already stepping in as a veteran leader.

“I try to lead by example,” Lee said. “I think I set a pretty good example with how hard I work. I know that when I was a young guy, I never responded that well to the veterans that wanted to give a 20-minute speech every day. While I’ll pull guys aside if I see something I can help them with, I’m going to try to be a guy that leads by doing the right things and taking care of business on the floor. I think if your veterans do that, then your young guys will follow.”

The value of Lee’s presence was highlighted when the Warriors traded him after five seasons. Many of his teammates took to social media in reaction, including Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes. The front office expressed their appreciation in a press release.

“Throughout his time with the Warriors, David was a great player, competitor and presence in our locker room as well as in the community and was a stabilizing force during a period that saw many positive changes within the organization,” General Manager Bob Myers said.

While Lee had only played for two organizations prior to the Celtics, he has seen handfuls of veterans come in and out of the locker room over his career. As a rookie on the New York Knicks in 2005, Lee’s most veteran teammates were Penny Hardaway, Jalen Rose and Antonio Davis. Behind them were Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis. Over his five years in New York, his teammates with 10-plus seasons of experience included Al Harrington, Larry Hughes and Tracy McGrady.

He transitioned into a new role during his time with the Warriors. The team was driven by youth and supported by veterans. Lee, Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut, Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa were the team’s five most veteran players and were highly valued, but the team’s stars were Stephen Curry (27), Klay Thompson (25), Draymond Green (25) and Barnes (23).

After playing alongside Curry, Thompson, Green and Barnes, Lee is embracing another opportunity with young talent.

“We have a lot of energy going into every single day and we have a lot depth at every position with youth,” Lee said. “With the youth comes a lot of energy, comes a lot of competitiveness and there’s been some very spirited practices thus far. That’s always fun because you come to work every single day either way, so be able to enjoy this and get the intense practice we’ve been getting has been very important.”

As the Celtics head to Europe for training camp in Spain and Italy, the trip will be a time to bond and build chemistry. Expect Lee to be one who helps bring the team together.

“He’s the perfect veteran that you want on your team,” said second-year guard Marcus Smart. “He keeps everything calm. He breaks the ice, the tension in the room, and he makes you feel comfortable and able to be yourself around everybody.”

Lee may not be defending a championship this year, but he does have a new task at hand. He already helped the Warriors reach the ultimate goal, and now he is trying to put the Celtics on the same path.

“That’s what great about my job – every year there are new challenges, new strengths and weaknesses,” Lee said. “It’s about establishing an identity as a team, which we’re doing right now.”

Jessica Camerato is a bilingual reporter who has been covering the NBA since 2006. She has also covered MLB, NHL and MLS. A graduate of Quinnipiac University, Jessica is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association and the Association for Women in Sports Media.

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