Courtney Lee heard all the rumors that he would be traded when the Knicks signed shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr., but he said he never was concerned.
Lee had inside information that the Knicks’ plan was to play him and Hardaway together. Team president Steve Mills and coach Jeff Hornacek called Lee to tell him he was still part of their plans after Hardaway signed a four-year, $71-million deal.
“I kind of knew that over the summertime before you all knew it,” Lee said. “I just kept that in. Early on they told me, right when they made the move, I got a phone call from Steve, Coach, everybody, saying your role doesn’t change. We need you to be more aggressive on both ends of the court and just play your game.”
That decision has worked for both sides. Lee is enjoying his best season statistically, and his consistency and overall play have been a big reason the Knicks are 11-10. Lee is averaging 12.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.4 steals, all career bests. He’s shooting 46.7 percent on three-pointers, also a career high. What’s the difference?
“We’re not running the triangle,” Lee said. “We’re running a different offense that’s more fast-paced, and it’s more suitable for my style of play.”
All of the Knicks who returned from last season’s team look more comfortable playing in Hornacek’s system rather than the triangle, which former team president Phil Jackson made them play.
Jackson signed Lee to a four-year deal worth roughly $48 million in the summer of 2016. Lee averaged 10.8 points and shot 40.1 percent from three-point range last season.
Lee was out of the spotlight with all the drama surrounding the Knicks, from Derrick Rose going AWOL for one game to the Jackson-Carmelo Anthony feud, Joakim Noah’s injuries and suspensions and the Charles Oakley situation. And Lee was fine with it.
“I just breezed under the radar,” he said. “As long as I didn’t get in trouble, there was nothing to write about C-Lee.”
The swingman continues to be under the radar, but he’s getting more recognition for his play and leadership on both ends of the floor.
“I don’t notice the spotlight,” Lee said. “I’m just trying to do my job and have fun with it.”
Another reason Lee wasn’t bothered by the trade rumors is because he’s been there before. In a 10-year career he’s been traded five times and dealt with countless rumors and reports that he could be on the move .
“That’s NBA basketball,” Lee said. “That’s every year — every player is in some trade rumors whether you like it or not. You still got to be a professional and show up and do your job.
“Was I supposed to pout? Was I supposed to get down on myself? Nah man, that’s part of the NBA. That’s part of it.”