In a summer that promises to make a lot of players a lot of money, no free agent seems poised to lose more than David Lee.
That of course is quite unfortunate for this high-energy rebounding machine. Lee really has done more than just endear himself to the Knicks faithful; his hustle has been the one consistent good memory throughout the past five seasons of basketball purgatory.
Lee's numbers have flourished in Mike D'Antoni's system, as he became a legitimate "20 and 10" power forward this season.
Yet, Lee is not a complete player: He's slightly undersized, he is not a very good defender, and it is unclear whether he can carry a front line offensively, rather than just thriving off garbage buckets and fast breaks.
This means that Lee can't expect to book the kind of paycheck that a Carlos Boozer or Chris Bosh is looking for. Lee wasn't able to find a lucrative deal last year either, as nobody—including the Knicks—wanted to commit the money that they had been reserving for the LeBron/Wade sweepstakes.
Lee will again struggle with being an afterthought this summer.
He's not in the Knicks' plans unless he's willing to take a major pay cut to fit around New York's two max signings. The other major players in free agency will also be looking to use their cap space on one to two max contracts, but not necessarily on Lee.
Lee will have a hard time fitting onto one of those rosters if he's looking for a contract worth his true value. Instead, in order to get paid fairly he will have to sign with a bottom-feeder team or a very disappointed franchise that's "settling" for him as their single major signing.
Basically, Lee is stuck having to wait for the market to pan out. By that time, the money might really have begun to dry up.
Either way, he'll probably be forced to choose between signing with a winning team for the first time in his career or getting paid. Many players face that dilemma, but it's not usually for their first large contract during their prime.
Watch for Lee to sign a shorter than expected deal yet again this year in hopes of cashing in and/or finding greener pastures at some later point in his prime. Here are the top three options for Lee this summer:
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