When the Knicks acquired Chris Wilcox and Larry Hughes yesterday, it may have confused anyone who’s been following the team for the last year or so. After all, the trades neither improved nor hurt their financial position for 2010, which is pretty much the only thing that’s mattered around here since Donnie Walsh took over. Who would have guessed that they were concerned about being competitive this season and next? But that doesn’t mean that Walsh isn’t still squarely focused on that summer, because the two trades he didn’t make yesterday just about guarantee 2010 roster spots for LeBron’s first two teammates.
It had been the prevailing wisdom last summer that the popular David Lee would simply command too much money on the open market for the Knicks to retain him beyond this season, being that they couldn’t commit to many more long-term contracts. But Lee’s game improved even further this season, to the point where Walsh had made it clear by the deadline that he was off the market. Competing for a playoff spot this year is nice and all, but if Walsh had any intention of letting Lee walk after the season, he surely would have tried to move him, either for a comparable player or as a way to unload some bad contracts. And speaking of bad contracts, Walsh also passed on an opportunity yesterday to unload Jared Jeffries — who is signed through 2011 — as part of a reported deal that would have sent Nate Robinson to Sacramento. But Walsh apparently didn’t give the trade much thought — Jeffries’s contract be damned — meaning Nate’s a part of their 2010 plans, too.
In a way, this is exactly what Walsh needs to do, because as long as he’s under the cap, the biggest obstacle to LeBron’s signing in New York was the fact that the Knicks wouldn’t have anyone worth playing with prior to their much-anticipated spending spree. (The Cavs are equally aware that they’ll need to prove their commitment to LeBron; they reportedly considered a trade for Shaquille O’Neal for that very reason.) But Lee and Robinson are thriving under Mike D’Antoni — and though we can’t speak for LeBron, we’d rather play with them over Shaq right now anyway.