Blazers considering Knicks forward Lee
In the wake of losing Hedo Turkoglu, the Portland Trail Blazers have become engaged in serious discussions about making an offer to New York Knicks restricted free agent David Lee, ESPN.com learned Saturday.
The development came a day after Lee's agent said a dozen NBA teams are trying to find ways to acquire the power forward through sign-and-trade deals.
But like other interested teams, the Blazers are concerned that they would be placed in limbo until July 15 -- the date by which the Knicks would have to decide whether they'd match the offer -- and could lose out if other free agents take themselves off the market in the interim by rushing to get what they can of the league's dwindling amount of available dollars.
The upside of the Turkoglu turnaround for Portland was that it left them as one of the strongest remaining players in free agency, with $9 million worth of salary cap space they're clearly ready to spend.
Portland could offer all of its available cap space to Lee in the form of an offer sheet that would amount to roughly $50 million over five years. And as a disincentive to keep the Knicks from matching, they could structure the deal so that the highest salary of any of the five years would come in 2010-11 -- the season for which the Knicks will need as much salary cap space as possible to make a run at LeBron James and/or another of the marquee superstars that will be available.
But there also is the possibility that the Blazers and Knicks could agree to a sign-and-trade -- although Portland would be no shortage of competition.
"All the elite teams are working hard to get him, and I know something is going to happen," Lee's agent Mark Bartelstein said Friday, as the first 72 hours of free agency were passing without Lee getting any offers for what Bartelstein believes his market value to be. He also pointed out that over the past 10 years (when the luxury tax was not an annual certainty, making market conditions far different than they are today), players entering free agency after averaging a double-double the previous season have been lucratively rewarded.
According to ESPN Research, eight players have entered the free-agent market coming off a double-double average the previous season. Here is what they subsequently signed for:
• Emeka Okafor 2007-08: Six-year, $72 million contract with Charlotte as a restricted free agent.
• Carlos Boozer 2003-04: Six-year, $68 million deal with Jazz as a restricted free agent, with the Cavs not matching the offer and claiming Boozer reneged on a handshake agreement to stay in Cleveland.
• Erick Dampier 2003-04: Seven-year, $73 million contract with Dallas.
• Elton Brand 2002-03: Six-year, $82.2 million contract with the Clippers as a restricted free agent.
• Tim Duncan 2002-03: Seven-year, $122 million contract with San Antonio.
• Jermaine O'Neal 2002-03: Seven-year, $126.6 million contract with Indiana.
• Dikembe Mutombo 2000-01: Four-year, $65million contract with Philadelphia
• Chris Webber 2000-01: Seven-year, $122.7 million contract with Sacramento.
• Tim Duncan 1999-00: Four-year, $45.9 million contract with San Antonio.
The problem for Bartelstein and Lee has been the power of the unknown -- no one having a clear idea of whether the Knicks would match.
"Joe Dumars and I had a long talk, and he really liked David a lot. David would have been a major target for them but he said 'Mark, if the Knicks match, I've lost Ben Gordon and everybody else I'm trying to get.' So this is a very difficult situation to operate under," Bartelstein said. "Even Toronto, they would have had to renounce all their players to get David -- and then they're not even sure they could get him."
Lee averaged 16.0 points and 11.4 rebounds for New York last season and has been a fan favorite in New York despite the Knicks having had four straight dismal seasons.
And something the Blazers will have to consider: After losing Turkoglu because he preferred the more international flavor of Toronto, do they want to take a similar risk on a player who has been open about his desire to remain in New York long term?
"Our first goal has always been to get a deal done with the Knicks -- a fair-market deal based upon who David is in this league among his peers, to get a deal that's fair," Bartelstein said before the Turkoglu fiasco unraveled and Portland entered the picture.
"Because there's no ifs, ands or buts, David wants to be a Knick. But if we're not going to be able to do that, the reality I have is that the route I have to go is sign-and-trade, and that's even harder because he becomes a base-year compensation player, and it makes that trade an incredibly complicated event to get to happen, where you have to put in all kinds of players and teams."
Bartelstein refused to name any of the 12 teams he claims are interested in a sign-and-trade, though he did say "if you look at all the tams who feel they are one player away, they're all in there.
"Players who produce like David Lee rarely come onto the market," he said, adding that he had only talked "conceptually" about dollars with the Knicks, whose president, Donnie Walsh, tossed an interesting nugget out there Thursday when asked why the Knicks were suddenly willing to offer Jason Kidd a three-year guarantee when he had said just days earlier that he would not sign any player to a mid-level contract unless he could shed an equal amount of salary. "I have a little leeway that will leave me in good position for next year," Walsh told the Associated Press. "I know what it is, but do not talk much about it."
Chris Sheridan is an NBA writer for ESPN.com.
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