Thankfully, the Knicks are losing again which means they will miss the playoffs and qualify for the draft lottery. That’s very important for a team trying to rebuild because it is the last first round pick the Knicks will have before the vital summer of 2010. Think of it as the final blow of the Stephon Marbury trade. As part of that deal, Isiah Thomas sent the Knicks first round pick in 2006 to Phoenix, but he protected it, allowing the Knicks to keep the pick if it was a top-25 selection in that draft. The protection went down to top-24 in 2007 and is now top-22, but there is no protection in 2010 and the Utah Jazz, who acquired the pick from Phoenix, will have it, no matter how high the pick is.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but what’s done is done, more importantly the Knicks need to avoid making another big mistake after this season, they need to be very careful with David Lee and Nate Robinson. Both Lee and Robinson will be restricted free agents after the season, meaning the Knicks will have the right to match any offer they receive in the free agent market.
At first glance, it would seem like an obvious move to retain both players. Robinson is averaging 18 points a game and David Lee is averaging 16 points and 11 rebounds. Robinson is a sparkplug who can change a game with his speed while Lee always seems to find a rebound and his jumper has dramatically improved this season. But, Lee is a bad defender and while Robinson has the speed to defend, he does not have the height and can be posted up by pretty much any guard in the league.
Would Robinson and Lee be starters on a championship team? In all likelihood, they wouldn’t and if that is the level the Knicks aspire to, they need to remember that this summer. It seems likely that at least one of them, if not both, will get a big contract offer from another team and the Knicks should refuse to match that offer. On a championship-caliber team both players would be dynamic off the bench and that is the level of salary the Knicks should be willing to pay them. They cannot undo the loss of the 2010 first round pick, but they can avoid making a similar mistake this July.