The New York Knicks are better off trading Courtney Lee. Here’s how they can get the best return …
The season is still young, but it’s looking like Courtney Lee could be an odd man out in coach David Fizdale’s system. The 33-year-old shooting guard has not played at all this season due to a neck injury.
Seeing as Allonzo Trier and Frank Ntilikina have done a good enough job in the backcourt, it’s hard to see Lee getting any significant minutes.
Granted, the New York Knicks announced on Twitter this week Lee was “progressing well,” and he should start running again soon.
Courtney Lee (neck spasms) was re-evaluated; is progressing well and will begin running on the court this week.
— NY_KnicksPR (@NY_KnicksPR) November 13, 2018
But even if Lee is healthy, he isn’t much more than a three-and-D in Fizdale’s system. He’s also on the wrong side of 30 and due just over $25 million between now and the end of next season, per Spotrac. That means it’s time to make a trade, but finding a buyer could be tough.
Fortunately, if GM Scott Perry follows one path, in particular, unloading Lee should be painless.
A mistake from the start?
Not surprisingly, Courtney Lee’s signing with the Knicks was one of the many mistakes of the Phil Jackson regime. Lee, a former first-round pick out of Western Kentucky, was signed to a four-year, $48 million contract in July 2016. That’s not as bad as the four-year, $72 million deal Jackson gave to Joakim Noah, but let’s put it in context.
Noah, though past his prime, was a former Defensive Player of the Year who had some good years with the Chicago Bulls. Lee, on the other hand, was (and still is) a career journeyman. The Knicks mark the seventh team he has played for in his career. Moreover, he has never been a star player.
Lee has never averaged more than 12.5 points per game, which occurred in his second NBA season. He averaged 12 per game last year, but that easily could have been from coach Jeff Hornacek’s fast-paced offense. The point is even in an offense-oriented system, an elite scorer Lee is not.
Rather, Lee’s greatest strength is his three-point shooting. He has made nearly 39 percent of his attempts from downtown and has made 40.4 percent of his threes as a Knick. Flaws aside, those are impressive numbers.
Lee also does a good job of limiting his turnovers, averaging one per game for his career. He is also a strong on-ball defender.
Not to disservice his brief New York career but with the Knicks wiping the slate clean this season, that means trading Lee. He isn’t worth his salary anymore and moving on from him is best.
The trade blueprint
The good news for the Knicks is there could be a way to deal Lee easily. Let’s take a trip back to summer 2014, just a few months after Phil Jackson was hired to run the front office. New York only held a single second-round pick in that year’s draft.
Not only that, but payroll needed to be cleaned up. Jackson then sent center Tyson Chandler’s expiring contract to the Dallas Mavericks for another second-round pick. $14.5 million was off the books in an instant. The return wasn’t that great, but money was still saved.
That is the exact approach to take in trading Courtney Lee. $25 million is a lot more than $14.5 million, but a deal is still doable. There are plenty of teams in need of three-point help, and Lee has plenty of that. All Perry has to do is find a team and say, “We’re looking to trade this guy. What are you willing to give back in a deal?”
And, of course, there is every chance Courtney Lee could return to the Knicks lineup and pick up right where he left off. Solid play from long range and about 10 points per game is just fine this year. Fizdale isn’t shy about letting the threes fly, which is right in Lee’s wheelhouse.
Except, Lee’s contract has become an albatross around the Knicks’ neck. It weighs heavier than Homer Simpson after a Super Bowl tailgate party. Lee can still help the Knicks but with the team looking to spend big in free agency next summer, $25 million looks better off the books than it does on it.
Lee can still help a team out despite his age. He will certainly be remembered as a reliable three-point shooter who could hit the occasional big shot. He is a great depth option on any team.
Unfortunately, that team is no longer the New York Knicks.