David Lee is Still Out There

p1_david_leeWith their roster currently at the 15-player maximum, there seems to be little to no chance that the Nets will be adding anyone new between now and the start of the regular season. But the quiet lull of the NBA off-season is not always the ideal time to look at stark realities, so I took it upon myself to take a look at a player that’s still seemingly out there for the taking.

Dime Magazine reminds us that restricted free agent David Lee still hasn’t signed a contact to stay with the Knicks, making him the last somewhat sexy name remaining on the open market. With their eyes towards cashing in on next year’s crop of free agents, it appears that the Knicks are only willing to sign Lee to a one-year contract or they’ll work out a sign-and-trade. I know it’s a slow economy, but who knew there was so little demand for a 26 year-old forward/center who consistently puts up double-doubles while sinking about 55 percent of his shots from the field?

Let me be perfectly clear: there have been no reports of either factual or speculative nature that have linked Lee to the Nets, but I think he would be an interesting fit in New Jersey. In the case of a sign-and-trade, the Nets would obviously be able to open up some roster space for Lee. If the Knicks are desperate to have cap flexibility next summer, the expiring contracts of Bobby Simmons and/or Rafer Alston are probably a good place to start a conversation.

There are obvious flaws to Lee’s game. His defense has always been considered a liability, and his offensive production last season could have had a lot to do with Knicks Coach Mike D’Antoni’s system. Also, it’s worth noting that last season, Lee had a considerably higher PER (player efficiency rating) playing center (22.0) than he did playing power forward (11.5). With Brook Lopez firmly entrenched as the team’s starting center, Lee would probably get most of his minutes for the Nets at power forward.

Of course, you don’t have to bring in Lee to start. While the Nets seem to have some depth in the frontcourt with Sean Williams, Tony Battie, Eduardo Najera and Josh Boone, I don’t know if I wouldn’t call those four “quality” depth. All four have offensive limitations. Williams has major maturity issues, Najera may not be healthy, Boone took a step backwards last season and there has been some murmurings that Battie is a waiver candidate. Lee has already proven he could be a very effective bench player, coming into games to provide an inside scoring punch and some tenacious rebounding.

The last factor to consider is cost. Not just the cost of his contract (Lee has been seeking about $10 per), but the long-term costs as well. Obviously, signing Lee now limits cap room for next off-season. But it’s very risky to assume the Nets will be able to lure any of the elite free agents – Lebron, Dwayne Wade or Chris Bosh – next year. What has made me most hopeful about this Nets roster is I feel many of the current players are young enough to only get better in the future. If the team finishes in the lottery again this season, it might only take another solid piece or two, combined with the expected growth of players like Devin Harris, Brook, Yi and Courtney Lee, to turn the Nets into a playoff team. On this otherwise slow day during the off-season, David Lee looks like he could be one of those pieces. So why not raise the possibility?

Posted by Mark Ginocchio