The Knicks have made Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee available via trade in advance of the N.B.A.’s Feb. 7 trade deadline, according to three people familiar with the team’s stance.
The team’s motivation in both cases is largely financial, according to the people, who were not authorized to discuss the situation publicly.
Finding a trade before the deadline to shed either Hardaway’s or Lee’s contract without taking salary back that extends beyond this season would ensure that the Knicks have the requisite salary-cap space in July to pursue top-tier free agents such as Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker.
It remains to be seen, however, if the Knicks will be able to find a trade partner for Hardaway or Lee without attaching an additional asset to the deal, such as future draft compensation or their 2017 first-round pick, Frank Ntilikina.
The Knicks can technically generate roughly $55 million in salary-cap space this summer, but the cap hold for the restricted free agent Kristaps Porzingis and other looming expenses — such as a first-round draft pick in June and a June 20 deadline for picking up Allonzo Trier’s $3.6 million team option for next season — could cut into that figure substantially.
Hardaway, who at 26 has been a productive offensive player for the Knicks but a defensive liability, is scheduled to earn $18.2 million next season, with a $19 million player option to follow in 2020-21. Although he is averaging a team-leading 19.6 points per game, Hardaway is shooting just 39.2 percent from the floor.
Lee, 33, is scheduled to earn $12.8 million next season in the final year of his current contract.
The veteran Knicks forward Enes Kanter has also been made available by the Knicks in advance of the trade deadline. But dealing Kanter before the deadline would not help the Knicks’ salary-cap situation this summer because Kanter’s $18.6 million salary is an expiring contract.
Kanter did not play Wednesday night against Houston and has grown increasingly frustrated with his dwindling role, with the Knicks (10-36) firmly focused on developing their younger players and prioritizing draft position.
After the Knicks’ loss to the Rockets on Wednesday night, Kanter told reporters he had been informed by Coach David Fizdale in the morning that he would be starting, only to spend the entire game on the bench — although Kanter did acknowledge that he was informed of the change in direction before tipoff by the assistant coach Keith Smart.
“What they’re doing is pretty messed up,” Kanter said. “I deserve way better. They didn’t explain me anything. I’m just going to let my agent handle it.
“I love the Knicks, don’t get me wrong. I love the crowd and M.S.G. and have love for this city, but I want to play basketball. Either play me or just let me play someplace.”
The Knicks have been trying to accommodate Kanter with a trade, according to one person with knowledge of the team’s thinking. Trading Kanter, however, is complex because of his team-high salary. The Knicks do not want to take on contracts in return that last beyond this season to maintain financial flexibility for free agency and re-signing Porzingis.
Kanter is expected to seek a contract buyout from the Knicks to become a free agent if the deadline passes without a trade to a new team. He would have to be waived by the Knicks by March 1 to remain playoff-eligible for another team this season.
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