David Lee walked off the Knicks practice court at the MSG Training Center here and met the usual throng of reporters.
"So," he said, "where am I going today guys?"
The answer is nowhere, yet again.
Lee's name has been prominent in rumors leading up to today's 3 p.m. NBA trade deadline, but Newsday has learned that the Knicks have told inquiring teams that they do not intend to move the coveted power forward, who leads the NBA with 42 double-doubles. "David Lee is off the market," one NBA executive said yesterday afternoon.
The Knicks, who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday, never shopped Lee in the days leading up to the deadline, but teams did call to check on his availability. Lee's name has been linked to trade talks involving the Portland Trail Blazers since early December, when the Knicks came close to giving him up in package deal if the Blazers were willing to part with Travis Outlaw and Sergio Rodriguez. They weren't and still aren't.
Although Lee isn't expected to be traded doesn't mean the Knicks won't make any moves by today's deadline. Donnie Walsh was considering a deal last night with the Chicago Bulls that would bring veteran guard Larry Hughes to New York in exchange for Malik Rose and -- at Walsh's insistence -- Jerome James. For the Knicks, the deal would give them a short-term filler at shooting guard with Hughes' contract set to expire in 2010. The two-for-one deal also opens up a roster spot.
Hughes, who will earn $13.6 million next season, has played in just 30 games for the Bulls this year and averaged 12 points per game before he was buried on the bench by coach Vinny Del Negro. If the Knicks could acquire him, Hughes would rival Al Harrington for shot attempts in Mike D'Antoni's system.
In return the Knicks would give up Rose's expiring contract ($7.6 million), but also rid themselves of James, a useless player for D'Antoni, who has a player option for next season at $6.6 million. The oft-injured 7-1 center, who appeared in just two games this season, is out with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Walsh also has taken some calls about Stephon Marbury's expiring contract, but as of last night it appeared the Knicks were preparing to hold onto Marbury through the deadline. If Marbury finishes the season on the Knicks roster, the team saves $20.8 million in payroll (plus luxury tax) next season, which seems to be more attractive than to trade him for mediocre players who have an extra year left on their respective deals.
For instance, before they completed yesterday's seven-player deal with the Bulls, which sent Brad Miller and John Salmons to Chicago for a collection of expiring contracts, the Kings had offered Miller and Kenny Thomas to the Knicks for Marbury.
At this point, if he is not traded by today's deadline, Marbury has until March 1 to come to a buyout agreement with the Knicks and sign with another team to be eligible for a playoff roster.
Nate Robinson, who also will be a restricted free agent and, as a two-time Slam Dunk champion, has become an extremely popular player around the NBA, has not garnered much attention from other teams, though he wasn't actively shopped, either. Both Lee and Robinson have endeared themselves to Mike D'Antoni, whose system fits them well, and Donnie Walsh has considered them building blocks in the rebuilding plan.
Walsh would be more than willing to abandon Mission 2010 if he could get a star player now. And with the economic climate looking bleak, the Knicks might be one of a few teams who will be able to afford one in the coming year.
The well-funded Knicks will have a plethora of expiring contracts on the roster next season to offer to teams that may be looking to shed payroll and avoid playing the expensive dollar-for-dollar luxury tax.
And with so many high-end free agents expected to test the market in 2010 -- James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh top a star-studded list -- the Knicks may be in play to acquire one in a trade rather than by signing.