Knicks can use salary cap exceptions to re-sign their own free agents and fill the roster.
The 30-year-old guard averaged 9.6 points per game, shooting 39.2% from three-point range, 44% from the field and 88.5% from the free throw line last season with the Charlotte Hornets. He has been known as a three-and-D wing over his eight-year career that has included six different teams (Charlotte, Memphis, Boston, Houston, New Jersey and Orlando).
Lee’s signing is the latest of a Knicks summer that has included a trade for former Chicago Bulls point guard and 2011 NBA Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose, as well as a four-year, $72 million contract agreement with free agent center Joakim Noah.
Noah has reportedly been recruiting Lee to New York.
The signings shore up a New York defense ranking in the league’s bottom-half in opponent points in the paint per game, and gives the team a starting lineup of Rose, Lee, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Postingis and Noah — one that, on paper, can compete for a playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.
Now comes the tricky part.
New York could have an additional $8.5 million if it renounces all of its free agents. Renouncing would not allow the team to exceed the $94 million salary cap to re-sign its own player.
Team president Phil Jackson said he would like to bring back Langston Galloway and Lance Thomas next season. Releasing the cap holds on the remaining free agents — Kevin Seraphin, Sasha Vujacic, Derrick Williams and Lou Amundson — would free up about $4.6 million.
ESPN.com’s Ian Begley reported the Knicks are looking to free up additional cap room via trade, moving a player to a team with enough available space to absorb the contract. New York’s roster, aside from the starting five, includes only guard Justin Holiday ($1 million) and reserve big man Kyle O’Quinn ($3.9 million).
Doing so would allow the team to pursue a back-up guard, and ESPN.com reported the team has interest in restricted free agent Tim Frazier.
Portland waived the 25-year-old guard midway through last season. Frazier stuck after consecutive 10-day contracts with New Orleans, where he averaged 13.1 points, 7.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals in the season’s final 16 games. He shot 41.9% from downtown.
New York could tender an offer sheet New Orleans declines to match should it move O’Quinn or Holiday.
If the Knicks fall short of Frazier, Mario Chalmers is another quality back-up point guard on the market.
The 30-year-old guard has championship pedigree, winning two rings alongside LeBron James in Miami, and is a career 36% three-point shooter. Chalmers averaged 10.3 points and 3.8 assists per game for the Grizzlies last season before he was waived after a season-ending Achilles injury.
The Knicks have their Room Mid-Level Exception worth $2.89 million on hand.
New York is also expected to sign its 2015 second round pick, Willy Hernangomez, this year. It can exceed the cap to do so, using the Rookie Exception.
Jackson could then move on to re-signing Galloway and Thomas. Exceptions were made so teams could have a fighting chance at retaining their own free agents regardless of the cap hit.
The Knicks extended Galloway a qualifying offer now worth $2.7 million. In doing so, they’ve made him a restricted free agent, meaning New York can match any other team’s offer and exceed the salary cap to re-sign him.
If no other teams make an offer on Galloway, the Knicks can sign him to a contract starting at up to $2.725 million with 4.5 percent annual raises.
Retaining Thomas, on the other hand, is not so easy, but it is doable.
New York owns the 6-foot-8 wing’s Early Bird rights, which means the team can exceed the cap to re-sign him for 104.5% of 2015-16’s average salary. Thomas’ contract with the Knicks, should he accept, projects to begin at approximately $6 million at the most with 7.5 percent annual raises — up to a four-year deal worth $26.8 million.
New York’s staunch perimeter defender earned $1.6 million last season and averaged 8.2 points per game on 40.4% three-point shooting. His suitors include the Thunder, T’Wolves, Nets and Hawks, but only Minnesota and Brooklyn have the cap space to offer more than the Knicks
Bringing Derrick Williams back into the fold could give New York versatility in its front court.
Williams is a Non-Qualifying Veteran Free Agent, which gives the Knicks lesser odds of re-signing him.
The Knicks can exceed the cap to sign Williams to a deal starting at 120 percent of his 2015-16 salary, or $5.28 million. New York could sign its combo forward to a four-year deal worth $22.6 million.
Williams’ 9.3 points per game last season proved valuable, as the versatile wing earned a reputation at New York’s bench scorer. He was drafted second-overall in 2011 and would reportedly welcome a return.
Green averaged 15.8 points on 40% shooting from downtown last season. Hornacek has often referred to New York’s need to add perimeter shooters.
The Knicks could also sign free agent guard Marcus Thornton to the veteran’s minimum salary of $1.31 million.
The high-volume, 29-year old scorer averaged 9.7 points in 18.2 minutes per game, but shot a sub-.400 field goal percentage last year. Thornton’s averaged 12.3 points per game over his career and spent nine games under Hornacek in Phoenix before he was waived in 2014-15
His contract last season with Houston paid him $1.1 million before the Wizards claimed him off waivers. Other available shooting guards in Jackson’s price range are Brandon Rush, sharpshooter Troy Daniels and Sasha Vujacic.
The Knicks can’t put together a championship-caliber roster this summer, but effectively using its cap space, New York can assemble a team ready to make the team’s first playoff appearance since 2012-13.