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Ball Don't Lie

David Lee explains being unkindly compared to FEMA

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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David Lee plays defense (Getty Images)

David Lee will never be able to win. That doesn't mean you should feel sorry for him, not with another decade to enjoy in his NBA career and a six-year, $80 million contract to currently have and to hold, but no NBA fan that is aware of his reputation or Golden State Warrior fan that is aware of his defensive shortcomings will ever get past that years-old scouting report of David's:

Good finisher, fine scorer. Great rebounder. Possible league-worst defender at his position. Puts up great numbers and has yet to play in the playoffs. That's the scouting report.

Unless you're one of Sports Illustrated's anonymous NBA scouts, the ones that for almost a decade have routinely infuriated us with step-slow takes (like calling this team great on offense and terrible at defense) that seem way out of line with the fantastic work the great majority of NBA scouts do each season. Reports that may push the limits of tact with, well, take a look:

Everyone says David Lee is a great guy, but talk about overrated. He's looking for his own numbers big-time. I'm guessing he leads the league in rebounds off missed free throws. He has turned himself into a 20-and-10 guy -- an accomplishment, for sure. But he's never been a guy who is constantly helping on defense. The story you hear from the Knicks is that his teammates used to call him FEMA, because he's never there when you need him.

Well, all right. In the scout's defense, this interview was published before Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, necessitating FEMA to be right there when our country needed it — a necessity FEMA continues to follow through on as our country recovers. And the report was published seven years after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, when a then-dilapidated FEMA was unable (due to several government agencies — federal, state and local regardless of political affiliation — mismanagement and poor strategizing) to swoop in to help with the same speed that we saw a few weeks ago out east.

He did, however, explain a couple of things, like the FEMA nickname.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency badly bungled relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. During the Knicks' training camp before Lee's second season in the league, famed director Spike Lee showed the Knicks his film about Katrina and FEMA.

"This was when I played 10, 15 minutes a game," Lee said. "And I was the only white guy on the team. All the guys are like, 'Man, we're not passing you the ball today because we saw that movie, and FEMA is all white guys, and they didn't help us out, so we're not gonna pass you the ball.' "

See, it was a joke. In the NBA, white guys and black guys joke about being white guys and black guys. So for a while, the Knicks called Lee "FEMA." To his face. Joshingly.

Wondering about this, the San Francisco Chronicle's Scott Ostler goes from here:

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Eddy Curry and David Lee josh it up (Getty Images)

The 2005-06 Knicks were a motley, at times unlikable crew, but in their defense we all were making FEMA and "heckuva job" jokes about former FEMA chief Mike Brown with little hesitation back then. There was a lot of anger to spare, even among us hundreds of miles away from New Orleans, and humor was a needed salve.

And, you'll note, the 7-year-old nickname has and had nothing to do with David Lee because he's "never there when you need him." Maybe the scout should get back to ripping on Lee's awful pick and roll defense, and leave the anecdotes to absolutely everybody else.

Lee is miserable defensively. Like Chicago Bull Carlos Boozer, his defensive rebounding acumen doesn't make him a total wash on the defensive end, but he's not far off. And even in their short time together Lee and Warriors center Andrew Bogut (one of the league's top defenders when healthy) have been seen sniping at each other after one of Lee's step slow rotations.

Still, trumping up his rebound numbers off of free-throw misses? I'd like to think I've been a pretty obsessive NBA League Pass hound since Lee's rookie year, but I can't recall ever thinking that this was a problem for Lee, or that he was padding stats or taking away from a potential fast break off of a free-throw miss with his grab of a carom.

It's true that Lee doesn't help defensively — he never has, and just doesn't have the instincts needed to slide over and make a difference on that end. It's infuriating, to observers and probably teammates in New York and Golden State.

He scores a ton, though, and not at the expense of his team's offensive sets. He rebounds a lot, securing close to ten non-free throw rebounds per game. It's just fine to criticize his limitations and failures, but not at the expense of what he actually does contribute. The point of scouting is to provide nuance and understanding when a hurried view of a single game doesn't provide the clearest picture of what an NBA player can do.

Nuance doesn't get you into Sports Illustrated as an anonymous source, though. That's not on SI, though we wonder who these scouts are year after year. It's completely on the scout for not coming across very … scout-ish.

Instead, the scout came off as a columnist. Come on, scout. Leave the hyperbole and bad jokes to us.

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