With the possibility of the likes of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and/or Chris Bosh joining the Knicks this summer via free agency, little focus has been put on whom the team may lose.
Of course, the Knicks have been one of the league’s most embarrassing teams in recent years. The fact that they have freed up cap room and are ready to shed themselves of some of the dead weight occupying valuable spots on the roster may come as a relief to many.
However, with all there is to gain, the Knicks stand to lose its first all-star in seven years: David Lee.
Even after a Donnie Walsh overhaul, Lee is one of the few holdovers from the dreadful Isiah Thomas-era. With five seasons under his belt, Lee is tied with Eddy Curry as the current longest tenured Knick.
Lee, of course, has been tenured by choice. Curry is tenured as part of obligation, as the team has been unable to trade him due to his long contract and multiple injuries.
A restricted free agent last year, Lee was only rewarded with a one year deal after playing well under Coach Mike D’Antoni in an effort to preserve precious cap space for this summer.
Now the time has come to make decisions. After being slighted by the team last season, Lee has set himself up for a big payday, fully blossoming under his offensive-minded coach. Lee experienced a 20-10 season highlighted by an all-star appearance.
In addition to Lee, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudemire, and Carlos Boozer are also among the top big men available.
All have all-star appearances and playoff experience. Lee has never made the postseason.
While Lee is unlikely to demand a full maximum contract from the Knicks, it’s possible he may not produce the numbers he did this past season ever again. His 20 point average may very well have been a result of inflation from simply being the first offensive option in such a system.
If the Knicks are able to secure such a star like James, Wade, or Joe Johnson to be their number one option, would Lee be just as much of a contributor?
My guess is unfortunately not. That would mean that Lee is no longer worth whatever contract he is given for his stellar play this past season.
The other three big men have all proved that they can play well and sustain averages while playing with effective supporting casts, which in essence, leads to winning games.
As well as he has played, Lee has not proved he can win.
Bosh, Stoudemire, and Boozer offer far more credibility and proof why they are all worth a more expensive contract.
One scenario that does include Lee returning to the Knicks is if they are in fact able to secure an elite wingman. Lee could join the wing if the Knicks are unable to sign one of the other big men, or perhaps desire to sign Lee at a “hometown discount” in hopes of signing yet another big name in free agency in 2011.
Although Lee may not be able to sustain his numbers from last season or even close to that with another starring attraction around, the Knicks may never know unless they try.
Nevertheless, that is only one scenario. If the Knicks happen to strikeout completely this summer, Lee could be offered more money to stay in New York. At that point, however, Lee would likely still be a part of a losing squad, and for certain become a scapegoat for not winning.
Lee is obviously not ready to carry the burden of a team winning or losing on his shoulders. He may never be ready to carry that burden in his career.
That is why if he returns to New York, it needs to be with a star.
Whether he was to average 10, 15, or 20 points, if Lee were part of a winning team, he would have less pressure to produce individual numbers.
While rebuilding the Knicks, Walsh needs to assess whether or not he believes David Lee can be part of a winning environment.
If the answer is yes, Lee needs to be sold on the fact that he can be a contributor, but should give as much of a hometown discount as possible so that the Knicks can build the team around him to be a contender.
If the answer is no, however, that decision will be solely business related. David Lee has given his heart and soul to the Knicks organization, but unfortunately, sometimes a good attitude is not enough to win.
The free agents available have all been pieces of legitimate contenders. Walsh’s focus this summer needs to be finding the pieces of a whole to build his own contender in New York.
If David Lee is not one of those pieces, fans need to prepare to say goodbye to him, but hopefully hello to winning ways in New York once again.