Orem, Utah -- Expect the flurry of trade rumors involving David Lee to continue during the run-up to the Feb. 19 trade deadline. We'll lay out the reasons, but first some perspective from a league executive scouting at the D-League Showcase here at Utah Valley University this week:
The executive was incredulous that the No. 1 story coming out of New York about the Knicks has to do with Stephon Marbury, who is far from Donnie Walsh's top priority. "Not even close," the executive said, arguing that the top issues on Walsh's plate involve Lee and Nate Robinson.
Neither was offered an extension before the season, meaning if they're still on the roster next summer they will be fielding offer sheets as restricted free agents. Robinson has exhibited his value as a scorer in MIke D'Antoni's ball-moving, up-tempo system. Lee is averaging a double-double, making his case for a handsome offer sheet that the Knicks would be unwilling/unable to match given their priority to clear cap space for 2010.
It is believed that Lee will be seeking a deal paying him $8 million-$10 million a year, either as an RFA or on the unrestricted market in 2010. That is far too rich for the Knicks, who need that money to attract a marquee free agent or two. Most team executives view Lee as a solid role player worthy of mid-level exception money. He's a gifted rebounder, but is undersized and lacks length, shooting touch, and the kind of defensive/shot-blocking presence most teams expect from a 4-5 man. (In my former job, I wrote that one of the top priorities of the Knicks' new regime would be trading Lee, and it turns out that I'm going to be right.)
The executive commenting on Lee's situation expressed doubt that Portland -- a team known to like Lee -- would trade a package of role players for another role player. The Blazers, according to the executive, would like to parlay players such as Travis Outlaw, Sergio Rodriguez, Rudy Fernandez, and/or Jerryd Bayless in a trade for a star -- not another role player. The Blazers have a star in Brandon Roy, potential stars in LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden, but other than that, they've corned the market on role players. Nothing wrong with that, but why would they need another one?
Portland's affinity for Lee may have been exaggerated in reports about possible trade talks with the Knicks. The Blazers' position, as the executive I spoke with understands it, is that Lee is the only player on the Knicks' roster who interests them. That is much different from saying that the Blazers are hellbent on acquiring Lee. Where does the New York Post's report Tuesday that the Blazers are interested in Eddy Curry fit into all of this? Not sure, but how could anyone be interested in Curry when he hasn't played a game all season?
Upon leaving the Knicks' practice facility Monday, Walsh called reports that he was trying to acquire former Knick Marcus Camby from the Clippers "made up." The most significant thing that happened with all of this was Walsh getting on the team charter for a four-game, seven-day road trip that begins Tuesday night in Oklahoma City. Marbury's representative, Hal Biagas, expected to meet with Walsh at some point this week to continue buyout talks, but evidently Walsh has other, more pressing business.
UPDATE: A second executive I spoke with here -- one who's had frequent conversations with the Knicks and Clippers -- said the Camby-to-Knicks scenario is indeed the stuff of fantasy. For one thing, the Clippers have recoiled into major cost-cutting mode. All Donald Sterling is looking to take back in trades is cash and short contracts. Camby's deal expires after next season, so the only way Sterling trades him is if he gets a contract expiring after this season in return.
The Lee rumors will continue, though, because 1) Lee is the Knicks' most tradeable assset, and 2) every GM in the league knows that Walsh can't afford to keep him and have enough cap space in 2010. And that is the issue Knicks fans should be focusing on, not Marbury.