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Relax Knick Fans – David Lee Isn’t Leaving

I’m a big fan of and my “friendly neighborhood columnist” Travis Heath. Travis has mentioned a few times that the Nuggets might be able to get David Lee from New York for two 1st round picks and Linas Kleiza.

Seems reasonable enough, right? Kleiza is a versatile swingman that would likely thrive in D’Antoni’s system, and Lee is an undersized power forward that’s probably over-achieving in D’Antoni’s run-and-gun system. Kleiza would likely play better and produce more in NY than he has in Denver, but NY can probably sign him for role-player money. Denver would gain a nice young front court player, but they could be overpaying. Factor in a couple of first round picks and NY’s desire to have plenty of cap room in 2010, and this trade certainly seems possible.


Here’s why I say it’s not going to happen:

1. The Knicks might not be able to sign a big name superstar in 2010. Lebron, D-Wade, and Chris Bosh are all eligible to sign extensions this summer. Miami is playing their cards carefully, working to create a complete team around Dwayne Wade. Considering the success they’re having this season with a less-than-complete team, and considering that Miami can offer Wade a longer contract than any other team, there’s no reason to assume that Wade will be leaving the Heat. If Miami makes a good move or two this summer and rounds out the talent, I wouldn’t be surprised if Wade extends.

All of the above goes for Lebron as well.

Only Chris Bosh seems likely to leave his current team at this point, but the Knicks have the room to sign Bosh if they keep Lee or if they don’t. Here’s why…

2. It’s just math. Here’s the fun part – the salary cap math. Here’s how the Knicks look cap-wise in 2010 right now:

Player and salary (in millions)

  • Curry – $11.277
  • Jeffries – $6.883
  • Gallinari – $3.304
  • Chandler – $2.130

Let’s assume that NY manages to trade Jeffries for a larger expiring contract in the next 18 months. Let’s also assume that Curry is completely and totally un-tradeable, despite the fact that I firmly believe Curry can be moved to someone at some point before the summer of 2010.

Trading Jeffries leaves us at $16.71 million in total salary for the Knicks in 2010, plus Lee’s salary.

Let’s say that David Lee signs a 5 year contract for $50 million. With an 8% annual raise (the maximum allowed by the CBA), he’ll earn about $9.2 million in 2010. That puts the Knicks around $26 million in total salary in the summer of 2010. If the salary cap is $61 million (assuming overall NBA revenue doesn’t change dramatically), the Knicks would have $35 million in cap space with Lee in the fold.

By rule, the most that Bosh, Wade, Lebron, or any other 7 year NBA vet can earn in 2010 is going to be right around $17.5 million…which means $35 million in cap space is just barely enough to sign two free agents to max contracts.

Therefore, keeping Lee is feasible – assuming all my numbers are correct of course. Even if my numbers are wrong – let’s say they’re off by $2-$5 million – the Knicks shouldn’t have any trouble moving Gallinari, Chandler, and/or Lee for a smaller contract as part of the free agent signing process. As I said before, there’s also reason to believe Curry could be moved at some point. Even if the Knicks simply traded Curry for a smaller, longer contract, the cap situation improves.

So the math shows that keeping Lee AND participating in 2010’s free agency market is completely feasible. Considering the strong incentive that Wade, Lebron, and Bosh have to stay with their current teams, keeping Lee is the best course of action for the Knicks. If Wade and Lebron extend this summer (and I think they will), NY would look foolish trading Lee, an up-and-coming power forward with a knack for rebounding for Kleiza, a slightly under-achieving role player.

Ballhype: hype it up!

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