The Knicks appear ready to turn Plan B into their first move of the free-agency season.
Before they sit down with LeBron James on Thursday afternoon in suburban Akron, Ohio, Knicks officials have tentative plans to fly to Los Angeles on Wednesday with the intention of quickly arranging a meeting with Joe Johnson and Amar'e Stoudemire sometime after 9 p.m. Pacific time (midnight in New York), which would be after the NBA's free- agency period officially begins.
Johnson, who is represented by L.A.-based agent Arn Tellem, is expected to be there Wednesday; Stoudemire, represented by Santa Monica-based agent Happy Walters, arrived in Hollywood for last night's BET Awards.
Johnson and Stoudemire are close friends from their early days in the NBA with Phoenix, where they played for (and developed under) Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni, and have discussed teaming up again as free agents.
The Wednesday plan was first reported Sunday by ESPN, which said the meeting already is scheduled and that the Knicks will meet Johnson in L.A. and Stoudemire in Phoenix. Two NBA sources close to the situation denied the accuracy of the report and told Newsday that both players will be in Los Angeles and that neither has any meetings officially set up with any teams.
The Knicks, by NBA rules, cannot contact either player until 9:01 p.m. Pacific time. Of course, it is common for conversations to take place via backchannels and liaisons, which is how the meetings already were scheduled with James, so it is likely that Johnson and Stoudemire already are aware the Knicks contingent will be in L.A. on Wednesday and will be calling at 9:01 p.m.
The Knicks initially have targeted James and Chris Bosh as the top priority with their nearly $35 million in salary-cap space, which is more than enough to offer two max contracts that start at $16.5 million each. But with a growing belief that James is more enamored of the Bulls' championship potential should he join Derrick Rose, along with the global connections of Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, and with Bosh almost a lock to join Dwyane Wade in Miami (remember: information is exchanged via backchannels), the Knicks are preparing to switch gears.
Johnson still has to decide whether he plans to opt out of his current contract with the Atlanta Hawks, who have planned to offer the All-Star guard his full maximum contract extension. The feeling, however, is that Johnson is most likely to explore his options in free agency and likely will do so after he meets with the Hawks this week.
Stoudemire is in the same situation. He will sit down with the Suns Tuesday to listen to owner Robert Sarver's best offer, but all indications are that he will opt out. Stoudemire is believed to be looking for his full maximum contract.
Because neither is a true leading man, the Knicks might try to convince them to agree to take slightly less than their full max in the first year so they could afford to add a high-end third player, either via free agency or trade, to create a formidable lineup.
Two well-placed NBA sources told Newsday that Spurs guard Tony Parker already has talked to Stoudemire about teaming up with the Knicks. A Johnson-Stoudemire tandem would desperately require a high-end point guard.
Parker, who has one year left on his contract and has been replaced by George Hill as the starter, has told confidants that he wants the Spurs to trade him to the Knicks. The Spurs maintain they have no interest in trading Parker, but the Knicks will keep trying. With few assets to offer, however, it would be a difficult maneuver without adding a third team to the mix.
Another option would be for the Knicks to explore a trade with the always cost-conscious Hornets for second-year guard Darren Collison. If they can't acquire a point guard by trade, possible free-agent candidates include Ray Felton, Steve Blake and Luke Ridnour.