New York Knicks’ forward David Lee won’t be playing in this year’s all-star game, but his performance so far this year appears to be serious cause for the Knicks to make Lee part of their long-term plans.
The argument for Lee’s inclusion on the 2009 NBA Eastern Conference all-star roster is a difficult one to make with the impressive seasons that this year’s all-star reserves, Chris Bosh, Danny Grangier, Devin Harris, Rashard Lewis, Joe Johnson, Jameer Nelson, and Paul Pierce have had.
However, Lee’s production at least entered him into the realistic discussion for the warranting of an all-star selection. And now, Lee’s solid play may also be convincing Knicks’ General Manager Donnie Walsh to make the 6-foot-9, 240-pound power forward a centerpiece of Walsh’s rebuilding of the Knicks rather than making Lee the Knicks’ latest salary cap casualty.
The jury had been out on Lee, who despite showing intense hustle and good athleticism, had averaged no higher than 10.8 points and 10.4 rebounds in any of his first three seasons in New York.
But, with Lee now flourishing under the new system brought to New York by new Knicks’ Head Coach Mike D’Antoni’s, Lee’s offensive output through January had ballooned to 15.9 points and 11.7 rebounds per game, as Lee has increasingly showed the ability to run the floor well, score with both hands and a nice touch, while continuing to play consistent, hard-nosed defense.
Lee, a restricted free agent, earns $1.79 million this season and is on the books for a qualifying offer of $2.68 million next year, but his contract is due to come off the books in the 2010-11 season. That’s the big free-agent year during which the Knicks will seek to make a major step forward adding however many possible stars from the like of Lebron James, Chris Bosh, Amare Stoudamire, Dwayne Wade, or others.
Walsh has been extremely aggressive in working toward that goal, already trading away the Knicks top two scorers, Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford, earlier this season.
With Lee’s agent Mark Bartelstein seeking a reported $10 million in a new deal for Lee, Walsh, in his first year as the Knicks’ GM, wanted to see what he had in Lee over at least one full season before making Lee an integral part of the Knicks’ future.
Yet, before the all-star break, Walsh might already be impressed enough to work out a new deal to keep Lee instead of making him the next Knick to be traded out of New York. Walsh reportedly said over the weekend that it’s highly unlikely that Lee would be traded before the February 19th deadline and that he is committed to resigning Lee.
Walsh realizes that Lee has been a huge part of the Knicks’ path back to respectability this season. With Randolph and Crawford gone, Lee has become the Knicks’ leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. After alternating just 23 and 33 wins in non-playoff seasons over the past four years, the Knicks, through January, were 21-25, just a half-game behind 24-27 Milwaukee for the eight and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. New York won 6 of its final 7 games in January with Lee averaging 18.9 points and 13.7 rebounds per game over that stretch.
Further convincing Walsh, Lee, through January, was the Knicks leading rebounder in 34 of the Knicks’ first 45 games, and had 35 double-doubles, tying him for most in the NBA.
As Lee continues to make a believer of Walsh, he figures to remain One To Watch in New York.