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NEW YORK -- David Lee has grown fond of having a playful back-and-forth with a certain beat writer for a New York tabloid, always trying to pinpoint moment or the quote the New York Post will seize upon to accentuate the negative.
Following the Knicks' 27-point victory two nights earlier, Lee quipped that the Post would write that "it made Sunday's 50-point loss look even worse."
So it was no surprise when Lee immediately took notice Thursday night as the Post's beat writer began scribbling in his notebook upon hearing Lee say that the Knicks had let one slip away in Thursday night's 106-104 loss to the Toronto Raptors, and he bellowed it out again -- with emphasis.
"Knicks let one slip away!" Lee said.
"Is that your back-page headline?" Lee was asked later, a reference to a conversation two nights earlier between Lee and the writers which transitioned to the topic of the truly tricky tabloid talent of writing a back-page headline.
Lee pulled his sweatshirt over his face and left it there, acknowledging his feeble back-page headline effort -- about the only effort area in which he came up short after scoring 29 points and grabbing 18 rebounds on the day he learned he had not made the Eastern Conference All-Star team as a reserve.
"It's disappointing, but I'm always looking for more motivation, so it's more motivation. Everybody that made it was well-deserved and having a good season, and I'd never talk bad about anybody that did make it. I just thought I had a good chance, and it didn't work out that way," Lee said.
Lee was listed as a forward on the official All-Star ballot even though he plays center for the Knicks, and the Eastern Conference coaches apparently gave more support to Al Horford as the backup center when they filled out their ballots with two forwards, two guards, one center and two others irrespective of their positions.
Lee had his 23rd 20-point scoring game (he had 15 all of last season) and upped his season averages to 19.4 points and 11.4 rebounds, clearly superior to Horford's numbers.
"I think the overall message was that nobody was taken off a team with a sub-.500 record, and so that means one thing -- we have to go out and get more victories, and that's what we'll go after," Lee said. "I thought I've had a good season so far, but the other guys that made it in have also had great seasons, so like I said, move on, and I've got plenty of motivation that's been handed to me for rest of season."
Lee finished with nearly identical numbers to Chris Bosh, who was announced as an All-Star reserve earlier in the day. Bosh shot 3-for-9 but had eight points and six rebounds in the final quarter, while Lee had six points and four rebounds and blew a crucial layup with 37 seconds left and New York trailing by one. He also missed a layup after blowing by Bosh on an isolation drive in the first half -- a drive on which Lee said Bosh had shoved him in the hip.
So it was yet another loss for Lee on a day that was different for him only because his diminishment of his accomplishments had moved to a new level. He was probably the best restricted free agent on the market last summer, but he got only one concrete offer (from Portland, where they wanted him to be LaMarcus Aldridge's backup) before the Knicks re-signed him, bumping his salary sevenfold to $7 million (with a $1 million bonus if the Knicks make the playoffs) both as a reward for his four years of hard work, and as a way to make sure he will not carry the dreaded base-year compensation status (thereby making him easier to trade) next summer if he is used as a piece in a sign-and-trade deal.
And if the Knicks get the No. 1 player on their wish list, LeBron James, the complexities of NBA salary cap rules make it virtually impossible to retain Lee at his market value. He could, however, get his big payday through a sign-and-trade that would send him elsewhere (such as Toronto, if Bosh decides to sign with the Knicks), but Lee also realizes that as long as Jared Jeffries and Eddy Curry continue to clog the Knicks' '10-11 cap, chances are the Knicks won't have enough cap space to keep him.
And that means that if Lee ever becomes an All-Star, there's a pretty strong chance he'll be wearing a different uniform.
Lee is aware of all those factors, which may help explain the gallows humor he's displayed.
Lee was later asked to come up with a better back-page headline choice, but after 30 seconds of reflection he drew a blank.
He was told: "If the Knicks had won, the choices could have included "DAVID'S GOLIATH," "DAVID'S LEE-VENGE," OR "DUBBY-DUBBY FOR SNUBBY."
Instead, because of the loss, Lee was asked to consider "SNUB HUB FLUB."
And on a day when there wasn't much for him to be happy about, that one brought one small consolation -- a smile. It was about all the levity there was for Lee on the day he wanted to be named an All-Star but wasn't.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.