DALLAS — While sources suggest Tim Hardaway Jr. was shocked and disappointed to be dealt from the Knicks again, Courtney Lee can’t complain.
In fact, Lee, 33, thinks the Knicks did the right thing. The veteran shooting guard now gets to play again, and in meaningful games with the Mavericks — 24-28 and four games out of the No. 8 seed in the West.
Placing Lee’s and Hardaway’s contracts in the Kristaps Porzingis deal for the expiring contacts of DeAndre Jordan and Wes Matthews gave the Knicks $74 million in 2019 cap space for the potential prize of pairing free agents Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, or using some of the space to trade for Anthony Davis.
“Free agency will be interesting,’’ Lee told The Post on Tuesday at the Mavericks practice facility. “They freed up a lot of cap to position themselves to go after Durant, Kyrie, Kawhi [Leonard], Jimmy Butler. Any of those dudes. I’m not saying they’re going or they’re not going. But they’ve positioned themselves to have meetings and positioned themselves to pay more than one person.”
According to Dallas sources, the Knicks believe they have a strong chance at Durant, in particular. Their insistence on doing a deal only if the Mavericks took the Hardaway contract demonstrated that.
If the Knicks had gotten a long-term commitment from Porzingis, the Dallas Morning News reported, the Knicks would have done a deal straight up — Hardaway for Matthews. That would have finally opened up needed cap pace for Durant’s $38 million maximum pact.
When he reported to Knicks training camp, Lee, who has one more year at $13 million left, revealed he was informed by team brass he could be moved.
“I understood 100 percent,’’ Lee said of the plan. “For the most part coach [David] Fizdale, [team president] Steve [Mills], [general manager] Scott [Perry], they communicated with me all season. I knew it was a 50-50 chance. The dice rolled on the other half of me being traded.”
Lee, who played in just 12 games, won’t call the Knicks’ strategy tanking. He said one part overlooked is attempts to increase the trade value of their youngsters to put into another potential blockbuster.
If the Pelicans hold onto Davis through Thursday’s trade deadline, the Knicks could have enough assets to swing a second deal if they win either the first or second pick in the lottery. As first reported by The Post, the Knicks offered a Porzingis package for Davis.
“What they’re doing is developing the young guys as much as possible and help those guys become assets moving forward,’’ Lee said. “From Frank [Ntilikina] to Lonzo [Allonzo Trier] to Kevin [Knox] to Damyean [Dotson], as much as they get out there and outperform their contracts and outperform what everyone predicted for them to be, they might get traded for draft picks and another asset. That was the mindset — to play the young guys to develop them and also appreciate their value and hopefully they become assets.”
Lee said he was unaware that Porzingis planned to miss this season — as he revealed at Monday’s press conference here. But Lee said he gets it.
“The smartest thing to do is,” Lee said. “Tomorrow (Wednesday) will be a year (since Porzingis suffered a torn ACL). It’s been taking a year to come back from that injury. That’s normal limbs. My guy is 7-3. You could assume the smart thing is to make sure he’s 100 percent healthy and going into next year’s training camp 100 percent mentally and physically ready. If it was me, I would’ve done the same thing.
“If we were competing for the playoffs, maybe you consider it and think about it. That situation, it was the worst team in the NBA. Why risk coming back to that if you think logically?”
Lee stayed classy, but said it was “tough’’ to accept his invisible Knicks role.
“As a businessman, I understood what was going on,’’ he said.
Now Lee, point guard Trey Burke and Hardaway replace Matthews and Jordan in Dallas while Porzingis continues to rehab.
“We weren’t playing in New York not because of our talent,’’ Lee said. “We’re three guys who all bring something different to the table and can definitely help a team trying to make a playoff push.”
This post was originally posted at https://nypost.com/2019/02/05/courtney-lee-understands-knicks-porzingis-purge-and-why-he-was-part-of-it/. WGEH does not own this content and is not responsible for it.