Knicks' Lee expects to be dealt
LAS VEGAS -- David Lee sounded a lot Thursday like a player who expects to be playing somewhere other than New York next season.
Speaking publicly for the first time since becoming a free agent on July 1, a clearly frustrated Lee gave a strong indication that he expects to be dealt to another team before the start of the 2009-10 season.
"At the start of this process I was really excited to be in New York, I thought it wouldn't be too difficult to work something out, but now we're forced to start looking at different options with sign-and trades and stuff like that," Lee told ESPN.com. "I'm sure it's going to be something we're not expecting, it's going to be something that's very complicated. But my gut would be that it's going to be difficult at this point to get a long-term deal done with New York, that's my gut."
"But my gut changes about every three hours, so I really have no idea."
Lee, who is sitting out Team USA's minicamp because of his unresolved contract status, said he had spoken to Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni for five minutes after bumping into him near the hotel elevator where the USA Basketball contingent is staying. He said the two did not delve too deeply into any discussions regarding Lee's free agency, but he said D'Antoni reiterated to him how he wants to have him back next season.
Lee is seeking a five- or six-year contract in the range of $50-60 million, with New York willing to spend something more in the area of $8 million per season.
The Knicks were expected to tender an offer sheet to Bucks restricted free agent Ramon Sessions earlier this week, but the lack of any developments on that front seemed to be a signal that New York was working to get the Lee situation resolved before moving forward on any other financial commitments past the summer of 2010.
With the NBA's salary cap expected to shrink again next summer, the Knicks -- if they use their full mid-level exception this summer -- would be positioned to have enough cap space to make a maximum offer to only one major free agent next summer (and it is no secret that their No. 1 target is Cleveland's LeBron James.)
"He has an agenda with his agent, and rightly so, and [Knicks president] Donnie [Walsh] has an agenda that I think everybody knows, and right now they're not coinciding -- and until somebody kind of changes that format, it's going to be a little bit apart," D'Antoni said. "Hopefully we can get it changed. We're exploring everything, and we're trying to stick to our guns a little bit, and that's about it. We love David, we'd love to have him back, but I don't think we can do it at any cost. That's what's being defined right now: What's that cost? And so far they haven't been able to agree on it."
Lee is one of 22 players attending Team USA's minicamp. One team insider said Lee appeared especially peeved that he would not be able to practice following a dinner Wednesday night for the Team USA hopefuls competing for a handful of spots on next summer's squad that will compete for the World Championship in Turkey.
Lee had declined comment throughout this month, but he finally opened up Thursday.
"I've learned a lot about the process, that's for sure. It's been frustrating. I worked hard in New York for four years. And it's one of those things where on paper it should be a great fit, where you turn around July 1 and say 'OK, what are we going to do to make it fair on both sides?' But it's not that easy -- especially with restricted free agency, so it's been very, very frustrating."
Lee thought the process would be complete by now because the Knicks had shed so much post-2010 salary last season in the Zach Randolph trade. But with Eddy Curry and Jared Jeffries under contract for that season for almost $20 million in combined salary, Lee is getting squeezed.
"Going forward I thought I could still be a big piece of the puzzle -- and it's not as though I'm looking at a max contract, or talking about either me OR LeBron. I thought it was something where we could get something done and they'd still have more than enough left over for what they wanted in the future, but apparently there's some disagreement on that -- just on how the Knicks want to move forward. And I think at this point they're not completely sure what they're going to do and how they want to proceed," Lee said.
Given the torrent of trade rumors he's hearing, Lee expects something to happen over the next two months that will keep him from having to accept the Knicks' qualifying offer of slightly less than $3 million, which would allow him to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2010.
"I know there's a lot of teams that are interested, and a lot of the teams in sign-and-trades interested in me weren't teams that had cap space going into this summer. But there's still Portland with cap space, and there's still teams very interested in sign-and-trades, and there's still New York figuring out what they want to do."
Is the "frustration" he spoke of at least a dozen times Thursday causing him to take things personally?
"I'm not going to go with angry or disrespected, that's not the way we feel," Lee said. "I understand the Knicks have a lot of different factors they're considering. At this point they're looking toward the future and trying to figure out exactly what they want to do, and possibly even confused about what they want to do. I don't know that they're 100 percent sure right now, just from what Donnie is saying, that they 100 percent know what direction they want to go in. You've seen that with the different guys [Jason Kidd and Grant Hill] they've been trying to get, and they haven't gotten them.
"It's no fun right now because it's the next five to six years of my life, but it should be fun to see what does come out of this."
Chris Sheridan is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.