What are the Knicks going to do with David Lee?

During a chat yesterday, Chad Ford had this to say about David Lee:

Donnie Walsh is trying to find a home for Eddy Curry or Jared Jeffries that frees up some cap space so that he can re-sign Lee. It sounds like that’s close to Mission Impossible, though I said the same thing about Zach Randolph this summer. If he can do that, I think Lee stays. If he can’t, he’d be smart to get something now instead of losing him in the summer. There is LOTS of interest in Lee both now and in the summer. He’s one of the few restricted free agents teams think they can steal away because of the Knicks cap situation.

Let’s be clear — the Knicks don’t have to trade anyone away to re-sign Lee. Ford is talking about clearing cap space so that the franchise doesn’t have to pay a luxury tax next season. They are currently on the hook for $69.3 million and that doesn’t count new contracts for Lee or Nate Robinson. With the the luxury tax threshold unlikely to change much from this season ($71 million), Walsh would need to move a contract or two to clear space for signing Lee and/or Robinson. Lee is the priority because he’s such a good fit in Mike D’Antoni’s up tempo attack. He is averaging 16.0 points and 11.7 rebounds per game, and is shooting almost 57% from the field.

Eddy Curry will make $21.7 million over the next two seasons but has only appeared in one game this season. The Knicks desperately need to get him some minutes if they hope to trade him before the Feb. 19 deadline. Jeffries is getting some minutes, but he has been horribly unproductive (PER: 7.39), though he was never much of a stat guy.

The bottom line is that if the Knicks want to re-sign Lee, they can. Their projected payroll goes down to $18.2 million for the 2010 season, so they would only take the luxury tax hit for one season if they chose to sign Lee to a multi-year deal (or matched another team’s offer this summer, when he becomes a restricted free agent).

What’s he worth? I’d say his play this season has put him into the range of $10-$11 million per season. I’d be careful not to pay too much more, because right now he’s putting up great numbers on a bad team that plays at a blistering pace.

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