The list of current Knicks players that Mike D’Antoni would like to see return next year is rather short. Danilo Gallinari, of course, is one of them, and to an extent Wilson Chandler and Toney Douglas are others.

Then, there’s David Lee.

Lee, the unrestricted free agent forward who continues to put up big numbers on a dreadful team, has no guarantee of being back in New York next season. It’s obvious the Lee has D’Antoni in his corner: the coach has made it a habit of keeping Lee on the floor in the final minutes of blowouts, giving Lee a chance to pad his stats a bit.

But when given the opportunity to say Lee deserves one of the two “max” contracts that the Knicks can offer this summer, D’Antoni gave himself some space.

I love David Lee,” D’Antoni said. “I love guys that have that talent. But we have to wait and see about all these guys.”

When D’Antoni refers to “all these guys”, he means the high profile free agents the Knicks will pursue this summer. If LeBron James were to sign with New York, he would be given the option of being able to choose which other free agent the Knicks would pursue. After LeBron, that “other free agent” would most likely be Chris Bosh or Amar’e Stoudemire, leaving no room on the court for Lee. Even if LeBron re-signs with Cleveland there is no guarantee that Lee would return. Team President Donnie Walsh is not convinced that Lee can be a star on a winning team. During Walsh’s tenure with Indiana, his best teams featured rugged centers and forwards. Lee is more of a finesse player who, in his five-year career, has never been on a team that has won more than 32 games.

Following a historic triple-double in a loss to Golden State on Friday, Mike D’Antoni had this to say (emphasis is mine):

I think that he’s good in the community, good on the team and he’s got skills that rival anybody in the league. Having said all that and I love him, that’s something where we’re going to have to see where all this is going. There’s so much (salary cap) room, so many (players). There are so many factors that it’s hard for me to say yeah or no.

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