Can the Knicks Find Trade Value in Courtney Lee?
One of the biggest questions the Knicks front office has to answer between now and the February trade deadline is if veteran shooting guard Courtney Lee has any trade value in the current market.
Lee, who’s missed 25 of the team’s 33 games this season, has recently returned to the lineup after sustaining a neck injury in training camp.
In his eight games, Lee has started out slow, appearing in just 14.5 minutes a game, and averaging just 5.5 ppg on 43.2% shooting from the field including 41.7% from the three point line.
Though he appears to have kept his three-point stroke, Lee has been a net negative In his limited minutes so far. Lee is posting his worst net rating of his career (-10.2): his offensive rating sits at 101.6 and his defensive rating at 111.8. That’s not the best way to return from an injury and boost your trade value.
Lee sits in his third year of a four-year deal. He’s still owed $7.3 million for the remainder or this season and $12.7 next season. While those numbers are not insignificant, it’s not an unmanageable deal if he can prove himself healthy -- the 3-and-D player he has been all of his career.
In his tenure with the Knicks, Lee hasn’t had a season in which he shot under 40% from the three point line -- he’s only had two sub-37% three-point seasons in his entire career. His ability to be a knockdown shooter and defend three positions mean the Knicks should be able to deal the healthy version of him.
So it all depends on his play from this point on to the deadline. If Lee is playing under 15 minutes a night and showing no value, he’ll be a tough sell with a fully guaranteed $12.7 million for next season.
As it stands, if the Knicks renounce all their cap holds, they should have $32 million in cap room, but Kevin Durant's max, for instance, would start around $38 million. In order to have a legitimate chance to sign Durant, moving Lee and his salary is of the utmost importance to give the Knicks the financial flexibility they need.
It would also take the right team and the right deal for the Knicks to pull the trigger, because they are unlikely to want any long-term commitments in return. The Knicks goal is to clear as much cap space as they can this offseason in order to open up a max value spot for a chance at Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, or even Kemba Walker-type players.
The right type of trade would have to be a creative one, because it looks hard to find something good straight up. But if they mix in a few teams, a solution might present itself. The Houston Rockets, for instance, are all-in on the 2018-9 season, and are willing to package a first rounder to improve, but lack an expiring contract.
The Chicago Bulls are trying to get out of their relationship with Jabari Parker, are acquiring assets for the future, and aren’t expecting to be so competitive next year that they’re worried about taking on some guaranteed salary. Who turns down this deal?
Knicks get: Jabari Parker, Isaiah Hartenstein, and a 2020 second-round pick from Chicago
Bulls get: Brandon Knight, Daymean Dotson, and a top-20 protected first from Houston
Rockets get: Courtney Lee and Emmanuel Mudiay
The Knicks would have the opportunity to decline Parker’s option in the offseason and in doing so, free up $20 million in cap space. The Bulls would get a first round pick and Dotson to add to their young core. And the Rockets would get the necessary depth they need at point guard in Mudiay to hold down the fort while Chris Paul is out with a hamstring injury.
It may take some creativity, but as long as Lee can prove he has value on the court, a deal like this could happen for the Knicks to advance their long term goals. It won’t be easy, but it isn’t far-fetched to believe that Lee may have trade value this season.
We’ll know by February 7th if he does.