Knicks 'zzone

Newsday's Al Iannazzone takes you inside the Knicks.

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Look in mirror while dancing on the Heat grave

LeBron James teased you. He took you to the brink. Everything seemed to be falling into place and a long, tough season was reaching a redeeming climax.

And then he announced he was taking his talents to South Beach.

You among the jilted are now reveling in his failure Sunday night in the NBA Finals. But let me ask you this: had he decided to come to New York, do you think he'd be any less reviled? Do you think the exterior angst would be any less intense? 

Sure, this is merely hypothetical now. But so was the foundation of his Decision. The way the story now goes, LeBron never seriously considered signing with the Knicks. He was allegedly afraid of the challenge that came with New York, the overwhelming task that was lifting this long-lost franchise from the ashes without tarnishing his image and billion-dollar marketing aspirations. 

During the fourth quarter, I texted an NBA player wondering why LeBron looked so passive and said he wasn't showing a killer instinct.

"Thats why lebron went to mia," came the reply. "He isn't a killer."

This is the story some want to believe, and as LeBron trudged off the court while Dwayne Wade looked exasperated, Chris Bosh cried and Dirk Nowitzki celebrated his first NBA title (while most people completely missed the obvious foreshadowing).

One season after his infamous decision, LeBron fell two wins short of an NBA championship. Who among you wouldn't have signed for that last July?

And while you giggle at LeBron's perplexing disappearance on the big stage, know this: He absolutely did have the Knicks in mind.

It was enough that he had his agent, Leon Rose, reach out to the Knicks the day after their July 1 visit and let them know that Pat Riley and the Heat had outlined a plan that would enable his franchise to sign LeBron plus two other all-stars, including his buddy, Dwyane Wade.

Q: Why give the Knicks some insider information if you've already eliminated them as an option?

A: Because you haven't eliminated them as an option.

In their meeting, which came before Miami's that day, the Knicks also presented a strategy that would bring two other stars in to join him in New York, with a belief that Amar'e Stoudemire -- a player LeBron tried to get the Cavs to acquire -- was already in the mix. The difference in the two plans was that the Knicks showed the ability to land a third star (likely Chris Paul) in 2012. The Heat, however, could do it immediately.

LeBron's group wanted to give the Knicks a chance to explain their plan again with a little more detail. How could they ensure salary cap space in 2012 to bring in that third star? 

Donnie Walsh was just two weeks from a hospital release after his neck surgery and had traveled from Cleveland to Chicago to meet with Wade and Bosh. His condition, which included the wheelchair that was exploited by other teams, didn't permit him to jump back on a plane back to Cleveland to sit down with Rose and another one of LeBron's representatives. So Walsh sent Glen Grunwald, who has become a widely respected, reliable and organized front office executive (despite the effort by some to link him to Isiah Thomas), and MSG Sports president Scott O'Neil went along to do what he does best as a marketing expert: sell the plan.

But one thing the Knicks couldn't do was accelerate the strategy to make it all happen in one year. Eddy Curry's contract ($11.2M) was a serious problem that couldn't be easily eliminated to create enough room to add a third star free agent. The Heat had the advantage of owning Dwyane Wade's Bird Rights (and Wade's recruiting pitch).

Game, Set, Match.

The future is now Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, with the 2012 plan (and Chris Paul) still somewhat intact, though that can dramatically change if the next CBA system is as restrictive as the league wants it to be.

It will also impact the Heat, who have $63M in guaranteed contracts for 2011-12 and $67M in 2012-13. If the NBA gets the hard cap system they want (they are floating a $45M cap), the Heat will have an almost impossible time improving the roster via free agency. And so will the Knicks. A hard cap system puts emphasis on team-building and smart roster moves over throwing money around.

And the Superteam era won't exactly end. On the other side of the hard cap, the Heat will still emerge with two of the best players in the league in LeBron and Wade, and the Knicks will have two all-stars in Amar'e and Carmelo. 

The Heat, despite their loss to a very gritty, veteran Dallas team, are already championship-caliber. The Knicks still have a lot of work to be done. Though LeBron did come up small in a big spot, he still was a big reason why the Heat got that far.

Carmelo seems to want the big moment more and historically is more successful at it. But what Carmelo has to prove is he can do it over the long haul; that he can endure the battles that lead you to the big moment in the NBA Finals.

So go ahead and revel in the Miami misery and LeBron's failure this year, but know that they are the team to beat in the East and will be for years to come.

 

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