Reshaping the Knicks Will Be a Major Test
By HOWARD BECK
Published: April 16, 2008
As first-round picks in 2005, Lee and Robinson are each eligible for lucrative contract extensions this summer. Without the extensions, each would become a restricted free agent in 2009 and, potentially, an unrestricted free agent in 2010.
So one of Walsh’s first critical decisions is whether to lock up the Knicks’ best young prospects at the expense of cap space in 2010. The players and their agents are watching intently.
“Donnie’s got to do what he thinks is best for the Knicks,” said Lee’s agent, Mark Bartelstein.
But, Bartelstein noted: “The reason why you try to create cap space is to try to get really good young players. I don’t know how much better you’re going to get than David Lee.”
Lee, who is averaging 10.8 points and 8.9 rebounds, has improved every year and is probably the Knicks’ most coveted player around the league. One rival agent, citing Lee’s talent, upside and popularity, suggested he could seek a maximum contract — in the range of $13 million a season.
The agent did not want to be identified talking about a player who was not his client.
To keep Lee and Robinson and still get under the cap in two years, the Knicks would have to trade Randolph or Curry, possibly both.
For now, the Knicks have four players — Curry, Randolph, Jamal Crawford and Jared Jeffries — signed through 2010-11, at a total of $45.6 million. The salary cap is unknown, but based on recent figures could be around $60 million. But the Knicks will have to sign at least eight players to fill out the roster. They will have to add the contracts of a lottery pick this June and another first-round pick in 2009. The cap space will disappear quickly.
Crawford is also eligible for an extension this summer and is expected to seek it. He can opt out of his deal in 2009.
Walsh will also have to decide whether to offer extensions next year to the Knicks’ 2006 draft picks, Renaldo Balkman and Mardy Collins, and whether to pick up the option on Wilson Chandler, their first-round pick in 2007. Based on their rookie contracts, those three could make a combined $8 million in 2010-11.
In any case, it seems certain that Walsh will let four veterans leave as their contracts expire: Stephon Marbury and Malik Rose in 2009, and Quentin Richardson and Jerome James in 2010. Because teams have to balance salaries in making a trade, dealing any of them could jeopardize the Knicks’ cap space.
Yet Walsh has also said he wants the Knicks to be competitive in the next two years, which means he needs some new players. Any free agent would have to come on a short-term deal, one that expires in 2010.
Even the Knicks’ coming lottery pick is not a certainty. Since there seem to be no sure-fire stars beyond the top two picks, Walsh could try to trade the pick and package it with an unwanted contract (Curry’s or Randolph’s).
Wilson Chandler will miss the Knicks’ season finale after injuring his left knee Monday night. A magnetic resonance imaging test confirmed the initial diagnosis of a sprain and also revealed a bone bruise.