When, at the end of ESPN's NBA Shootout show on Wednesday night, Tim Legler and Tom Penn both predicted the Knicks would be LeBron James' destination of choice, you had to expect the network would have quickly gone to color bars. The exasperated looks on the faces of Chris Broussard and Ric Bucher were priceless.

I won't even pretend to say I have better information or dare to predict anything. LeBron is meeting with each team that has a legitimate shot at signing him and the Knicks had there turn on Day 1. After two years of hearing that James wouldn't even opt-out to get to July 1 -- remember how preposterous that was said to be? -- the Knicks got the audience they had been hoping for. They made their pitch -- sources at the meeting say the Knicks put a lot of time into explaining exactly how the team planned to build a championship-caliber team around James and offered evidence of how they would be able to keep that team together for a long time, regardless of cost -- and now all they can do is hope their message is the most convincing.

But until then, we bring you a few more days of the orange-and-blue underdog.

"I hate to be snide," Mike D'Antoni said, "but I know you guys [in the media] well and I'm really glad that we're not considered a lead horse."

In other words, D'Antoni is saying the media's accuracy is on par with Larry Hughes' shot selection.

But let's not overstate the "cautiously optimistic" (D'Antoni's words) mood coming out of that meeting here in Cleveland on Thursday afternoon. The Nets also strutted through the lobby with a sense of accomplishment. They had Jay-Z, who has become the most ubiquitous minority-share owner (1-percent, you know) in the league, leading the way in a presentation that was mainly about how Mikhail Prokhorov plans to induct LeBron into the Billionaire Boys Club. Basketball? Yeah, you'll play basketball, too. Avery will get Devin Harris to play without the ball or we'll just get Ernie Grunfeld to take him off our hands for nothing.

One gushing Nets official labeled the result of their meeting with LeBron as "front-runner tremendous" to ESPN's Chad Ford.

For once it would be refreshing to have someone step out of a meeting, wipe his brow and howl, "Hoooo-boy we really blew it!"

Perhaps that has already gone through Dan Gilbert's mind a few times since mid-May.

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[Bloghost note: Would a team that felt confident in re-signing a player have employees stand outside a building holding up taunting signs where that player was conducting free agency meetings? Very bizarre, minor-league move by the Cavs. Then again, it is a little weird that the player would hold these meetings right in the heart of downtown of the city where he plays.]

The Knicks are certainly aware that this may be their only real shot at instant gratification via free agency. Rudy Gay is already off the market on Day 1 (it would be Michael Heisley to throw a full max at Gay after crying poverty all season...Your [Luxury] Tax Dollars at Work!) and reports say Joe Johnson is also expecting to receive his full Bird Rights max (6 x $119M) from the Hawks and no one can blame Joe for taking the money, even if it does mean potentially crippling that franchise.

But would he slightly consider taking the lower max (5 x $92M) to come to New York if it meant teaming up with LeBron as a tailor-made wingman? The Knicks are hoping he would and likely won't know for sure -- though reports out of Atlanta strongly suggest Johnson will already take the bigger number -- until we get closer to the end of the moratorium.

Amar'e Stoudemire is still in play, though he could be in heavy demand if Chris Bosh, whom the Knicks meet Friday at 1 p.m. in Chicago, accepts a move to Houston (the Rockets have plenty of assets to offer in a sign-and-trade, some of which the Knicks coincidentally provided at the Feb. 18 trade deadline). If you take Bosh out of the equation, now you have the Bulls, Heat and Knicks battling for one player rather than two.

Stoudemire has already talked with the Heat and he's had inquiries from S&T teams such as the Magic and Rockets. The Knicks will get him to New York for a visit on Monday and they could attempt to get him in a S&T if they include David Lee in a double S&T move. The issue with Stoudemire involves how many years to give him, because his injury history with the eye and knee could scare away the NBA's insurance underwriter. But there are ways around that and, once again, the Knicks do have the financial wherewithal to absorb that type of risk while other franchises do not. If it helps them get LeBron James, it's worth it.

And right now, at this early stage of the free agency period, that's what it's all about.

"We've been working toward this for a long time and now we're here," Allan Houston said after the meeting in Cleveland. "I just told him, 'I think you'll know. You'll have a peace about it and make a decision accordingly.' I wished him the best."

While the Knicks are in Chicago on Friday to meet Bosh and Dwyane Wade (he's at 10 a.m.), James will meet with the Heat and Clippers. On Saturday it'll be the Bulls and Cavaliers.

You thought this week was wild? Just wait until after the July 4th holiday weekend, when Decision Day approaches. There have been reports that James may announce a decision as early as Monday. I'm not sure it'll be that quick.

* * *

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*- Not sure what to make of Friday's meetings in Chicago, especially with Wade, who seems to be a given to re-sign in Miami. But if you think about it, if things were as certain with the Heat as reported -- Bosh going there in a sign-and-trade -- why would they go through the charade of meeting teams? Is it all a front to hide the fact that there was a deal done before the free agency period began?

Or is Wade not totally certain he won't wind up alone -- or at best with Carlos Boozer and a gutted Heat roster -- at the end of this process?

* - Another potential key to LeBron could be Mike Miller, a versatile sharp-shooter whom the Knicks met with on Wednesday in LA. But the Lakers are said to love Miller and could use the MLE to sign him. The Knicks don't have an MLE as long as they are under the cap and certainly can't afford to use up that much cap space on Miller before they sign a star player.

* - David Lee certainly has collected a large list of suitors, with the Heat, Bulls and Nets showing immediate interest, while some sign-and-trade teams are also inquiring. If Lee comes to an agreement before the Knicks can use him in a double S&T it could really hurt them.

* - I've heard the Knicks have several trade scenarios under consideration in case they have to switch gears and go that route to rebuild the roster if free agency doesn't provide enough talent. Tony Parker and Darren Collison appear to be two options to upgrade the point guard position, while there are whispers the Knicks have even internally discussed Gilbert Arenas. But that is extremely preliminary and trade scenarios, right now, are on the backburner.

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* - Keep in mind the Knicks have until Wednesday to waive Bill Walker, otherwise his $916,100 salary for next season officially locks in against the 2010-11 cap. It seems a given they will keep him, however.