New York Knicks: Trading Courtney Lee Is The Next Step Of Long Rebuild
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 20: Courtney Lee #5 of the New York Knicks reacts against the Brooklyn Nets during their preseason game at Barclays Center on October 20, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Courtney Lee doesn’t fit into the long rebuild that the New York Knicks have planned around their young core. It’s time to trade him.

Carmelo Anthony isn’t the last veteran the New York Knicks should trade. He was a good first step in the right direction, but not the final veteran piece to go in this long rebuild. The next guy to go should be Courtney Lee.

It’s not an easy decision. A trade shipping the team’s best defender on an already horrible defensive team would signify to the fanbase that they have no intention of competing this season. Lee was New York’s best three-point shooter last season and would be again.

But it’s necessary. A rebuild involves shedding salary. Following 2017-18, Lee has two seasons and over $25 million left on the deal he signed last summer. This wouldn’t be the first time New York’s shopped Lee. They were reportedly attempting to deal him in his first year with the team.

When it became clear the Knicks weren’t a playoff team in 2016-17, they began shopping Lee (via Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype) for just that reason. Back in July, ESPN’s Ian Begley reported that New York had received interest in a trade for the former Hornet.

This isn’t Lee’s first time on the trade block. He’s been traded five times during his NBA career already, so he knows this is coming. He recently turned 32 years old, and after nine seasons in the NBA, he has nearly 700 games and 19,000 minutes under his belt.

He’s a better fit for a contending team, and his words speak volumes about that very fact. During training camp, Lee said to Marc Berman of The New York Post, “the thing that would mean the most to me is if we make the playoffs.”

New York’s focus for the upcoming season is developing their young core of Kristaps Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Willy Hernangomez. The new regime needs to figure out what kind of player fits best around Porzingis in the long run.

Lee is that kind of guy. He’s a defense-first wing player who doesn’t need the ball in his hands to have an impact on offense. Unfortunately, when you are a 30-win team, players like Lee are more valuable as trade chips. Maybe even a first-round pick.

So-called contenders become desperate for help at the trade deadline and tend to be liberal with their picks. If New York throws in Kyle O’Quinn along with Lee they should be able to pull off a deal for another first-round pick. It might not be a good one, but when you’re as bad as the Knicks, you can’t be picky.

The Brooklyn Nets got an unprotected first-round pick last year from the Washington Wizards for Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough. That turned into the 22nd pick and Texas center Jarrett Allen. If New York can flip Lee into the 22nd pick, a promising young prospect like Allen and perhaps even another young piece, they’d be happy with themselves.

It shouldn’t be too hard to move the guy. He’s still a solid defender, and he put up some excellent numbers last season. You can argue that Lee is coming off the best season of his career. At least offensively anyway.

The 32-year-old posted the highest three-point attempt rate of his career and still shot over 40 percent from downtown. This wasn’t some small sample size either. Lee was putting up 3.5 per game in 77 appearances.

Lee was an integral part of the small amount of success that last season’s team had. He was first in steals and offensive rating, and second in total minutes played. Lee was fourth on the team in scoring behind Porzingis, Anthony, and Derrick Rose at just under 11 points per game.

Lee’s point total is made even more impressive by the fact that he was just 12th on the Knicks in usage percentage. That’s not 12th in the entire NBA, but 12th on his bad team. New York needs to capitalize on his fine performance, and the stellar numbers he’s putting up in the preseason, with a trade.

Rebuilding a New York Knicks franchise that has been so pathetic for so long will take for lack of a better term: a long time. Courtney Lee is a great piece to have around if you want to make the playoffs, but if you’re rebuilding like the Knicks, you need to trade the guy.

I'm ESNY's Executive Editor for I cover the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets. Email: Chip Murphy covers the NBA for Elite Sports NY. You can find him on Twitter @ChipperMurphy.