Newsday's Al Iannazzone takes you inside the Knicks.
S&Ts for Lee still under consideration
The only holding out on David Lee's mind right now is mainly the hope that his contract status will be resolved fairly soon. In fact we're hearing through a source tonight that there are "are a couple of sign-and-trades still being considered before a one-year deal is negotiated."
We can't tell you what these deals are because it is sensitive information that, if it were to go public would be detrimental to either happening.
In other words, we don't really know the exact principles of either deal that has been discussed.
And why we don't know is because our sources won't tell us for the reasons stated above.
What we do know is that if neither deal is accepted by the Knicks -- and we're told that Donnie Walsh, despite wanting to keep Lee in the fold, is taking serious consideration into any reasonable S&T for Lee -- then Lee and his agent, Mark Bartelstein, are prepared to negotiate a one-year deal to remain in New York for the 2009-10 season. He will then become an unrestricted free agent in next summer.
Again, we can only speculate about the potential sign-and-trades at this point. You could guess that the Portland Trail Blazers may be one of the interested parties.
The Blazers were very close to tendering an offer sheet to Lee after the Jazz matched their offer for Paul Millsap. In fact, Knicks insiders tell me they were bracing for it, but Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard felt the Knicks were sure to match, so he went with Andre Miller instead.
The Knicks have made it pretty clear to Portland that any discussion involving Lee would have to start with Rudy Fernandez ($1.1M with team opt in 2010). So far, the Blazers have been reluctant to include Fernandez and, after signing Miller, are more likely to want to involve Steve Blake ($4.9M) and Travis Outlaw ($4M). This works for Lee because it's around the type of salary range he's looking for ($9M) and it works for the Knicks' 2010 plan because both contracts are expiring deals. Plus, while Outlaw gives scoring punch on the wing, Blake would give some needed depth in the backcourt.
But, from what I understand, so far the Knicks are not interested if Fernandez is not in the deal. Lee is a valuable asset and the Knicks aren't interested in just giving him away for a pair of expiring deals.
Another scenario, of course, involves the Utah Jazz and Carlos Boozer, who is in an expiring year at $12M. The Jazz, however, just made that long-term committment to Millsap and are over the luxury tax threshold. It is hard to believe they would prefer to give up an all-star talent like Boozer to add a long-term deal for Lee.
As for the theory that Cuttino Mobley's contract could come into play in some way, let's keep one thought in mind: the Knicks also value Mobley's contract as a major savings for themselves. If you discount Mobley and the unsigned restricted free agents (Lee and Nate Robinson), there are 12 healthy players under contract right now for a total of $63,477,806.
Could the Knicks actually be under the luxury tax threshold ($69.92M) this season? Well, not likely. But they won't be paying nearly as much as they used to.
Lee ($2.6M) and Robinson ($2.9M) still have their qualifying offers on the table and then there is the Mobley salary of $9.5M which still counts as long as he remains a roster player. Add these in and, obviously, the Knicks are over the threshold. Every dollar over counts as two, remember.
So if the Knicks eventually waived Mobley to make his retirement official, they could be saving about $15M-to-$18M in real money, depending on what happens with Lee and Robinson. Say what you want about the filthy rich team, which is rated by Forbes as the league's most valuable franchise, that's a large amount of money to keep in the checkbook.
No fan wants to hear about fiscal responsibility right now when they're being asked to renew their season subscriptions or buy up 10-game packages for a team that will be young and won't be expected to contend. But, again, there is something to be said about a financially-sound franchise with a solid business plan. If you check the track record, it's clear doing it the other way didn't work.
Consider that this past season the Knicks paid $23.7M in luxury tax, $19.7M in 2007-08 and in 2006-07 they paid a ridiculous $45M in tax. $45M!!!So over the past three seasons, the franchise paid the NBA $88.4M in tax payments for teams that won a total of 88 games over that span (Yes, $1M per win).
This is the hump year, Fixers. You don't blow up the plan now that you've come this far. Especially not with LeBron James making it so clear he plans to make himself available as a free agent.
The worst that can happen is the Knicks are left with tons of cap space and plenty of flexibility to acquire high-end talent.
Getting back to Lee, I'm still leaning toward the belief that the end result will be a 1-year deal at an agreeable price (just a guess, but I'd say $9M should get it done...note that it's basically the Mobley salary slot). The sides could still negotiate an extension during the season and also, obviously, in July.