The Knicks didn't land a big name in free agency this summer, but they also didn't lose any.
With five days left before training camp opens in Saratoga, the team locked up both of its restricted free agents. After Nate Robinson agreed to a one-year deal for above his $2.9 million qualifying offer on Wednesday, David Lee on Thursday came to terms on a one-year contract for $7 million with a $1 million bonus of the Knicks make the playoffs this season.
Both deals are expected to be officially announced by the team on Friday.
Though it is not the long-term commitment Lee had wanted, it is significantly higher than his qualifying offer of $2.6 million, which is, by rule, all the team had to pay him this season.
"They did something that's never been done before," Lee's agent, Mark Bartelstein, said.
The one-year deal means Lee will become an unrestricted free agent next summer, when the market will be far more lucrative, as about half of the league will have salary cap space. The Knicks have spent the past year carving out space to be major players in the 2010 free agency sweepstakes and will likely try to sign Lee and Robinson to long-term deals then.
The Knicks open camp next Tuesday at Skidmore College in Saratoga with 17 players on the roster. Lee and Robinson are considered key pieces to a team that remains in major transition under Donnie Walsh.
Lee was the 30th overall pick in 2005 and quickly became a fan favorite for his hustle and rebounding savvy. Last season he enjoyed a statistical breakout with 16 points and 11.7 rebounds per game and recorded an NBA-best 65 double-doubles. Robinson saw his popularity skyrocket around the NBA after the 5-9 guard won his second Slam Dunk title. More importantly, he arrived as a player with a career-best 17.2 points per game. Robinson finished third in the voting for the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award.
Despite the Knicks' limited budget and a very limited free agent market this summer, Lee's agent, Mark Bartelstein, was determined to find what he saw as fair market value for his client through either an offer sheet or a sign-and-trade. None of the five teams with cap space made an offer for Lee, but Bartelstein did present a few sign-and-trade scenarios to Donnie Walsh.
Robinson, however, went to Walsh at the start of free agency and said he didn't want to leave New York and was open to a one-year deal. So his agents, Aaron and Eric Goodwin, did not actively pursue offer sheets or sign-and-trades.
"Everybody knows I want to be a Knick," Robinson told Newsday, "this is the place I've wanted to play my whole life."
Though Walsh did consider other guards in free agency (Jason Kidd, Andre Miller and Ramon Sessions), Robinson said he never had a doubt that he'd be back in a Knicks uniform. The only thing is, he won't be wearing his familiar No. 4. Robinson was given permission by the NBA to switch to No. 2, which he wore in college.
The one-year contracts do not completely expunge Lee and Robinson from the 2010 cap budget. To maintain both players' "Bird Rights" (the ability to sign them to a longer term with higher raises than any other team), both will have a "cap holds." The hold for Lee, for instance, would be between $10.5 and 12 million (one-and-a-half times his salary, depending on the bonus) that will count against the Knicks' cap space next summer.