David Lee broke his silence yesterday regarding his unsettled contract status as a restricted free agent. The popular power forward told Newsday he is "frustrated” that he remains unsigned by the Knicks.
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"With the four years of hard work I've put in, I'm just frustrated this thing hasn't gotten done yet with the Knicks,” Lee said in a phone interview from Las Vegas, where he is attending a USA Basketball minicamp. " . . . It's been frustrating enough that it has caused us now to kind of look at other options.”
What has hampered the process is Walsh's steadfast commitment to his plan to give the Knicks as much salary-cap flexibility as possible to make a major free-agency splash in 2010, when MVP-caliber players such as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are expected to be on the market. The NBA warned its teams this month with a doomsday projection that the cap could dip as much as $8 million next year, which makes every dollar spent all the more critical.
"I understand that he's frustrated and I understand why he's frustrated," Walsh said last night. "It's a very tough market and we're not in a great position. I have a cap situation."
Lee, who has received only a one-year, $2.7-million qualifying offer, averaged a career-high 16.0 points and 11.7 rebounds per game and led the NBA with 62 double-doubles last season. Walsh said he doesn't intend to force Lee to take the qualifier, but he can't meet the $12-million-per-year asking price that Lee's agent, Mark Bartelstein, has set. If he did, it could eliminate any chance of the Knicks having the cap space to offer a max contract next summer.
As a result, Bartelstein has been feverishly working the rest of the league to find a sign-and-trade offer for his client. "There's a lot of things we're working on,” Bartelstein said.
Portland has about $9 million in cap space for an offer sheet, but the Knicks, who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday, have the right to match. A sign-and-trade with Utah could send All-Star forward Carlos Boozer, who has one year left on his contract, to New York if the Jazz is interested. There also has been talk that the Bulls would be interested in a sign-and-trade.
Bartelstein also has approached Walsh with concepts that involve backloading the contract to soften the cap hit in 2010.
"From our standpoint, I know we've been happy to work with those guys,” Lee said. "At this point, for whatever reason, it's not working out.
"I don't know if I've given up hope, but it's been very, very frustrating . . . I guess I expected things to move along a lot quicker with the Knicks, and it hasn't.”
Meanwhile, there is no offer sheet imminent for restricted free agent Ramon Sessions, as his agent, Jim Wells, suggested this week. But reports that the Knicks have backed off their interest in Sessions are inaccurate. A multiyear offer for less than the midlevel exception still is under consideration, along with one-year rental options such as unrestricted free agent Andre Miller and possibly Jamaal Tinsley, whom the Pacers bought out Wednesday.