Barker's analysis: Nets going for broke on LeBron

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Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James reacts after dunking against Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James reacts after dunking against the Detroit Pistons in the second half of a first-round NBA playoff basketball game, in Auburn Hills, Mich. (April 24, 2009) Photo Credit: AP

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Barbara Barker Newsday sports writer Barbara Barker

Barbara Barker is an award-winning sports features writer and columnist who has covered sports in New York for

One by one, the players on the Nets' "B'' list are being signed and courted by the competition. Rudy Gay has decided to go back to the Memphis Grizzlies. And Amar'e Stoudemire is in serious talks with the Knicks.

The Nets, however, had nothing scheduled over the weekend. Nada Saturday. Nada Sunday. And that lack of activity is a lack of activity with a purpose.

The Nets have put all their chips in the middle of the table - and that table is in Cleveland. The team brass isn't going anywhere or talking to anyone until LeBron James tells the world where he wants to be next season.

The wait-and-see strategy is a gutsy gamble. If the Nets, who are $30 million under the cap, had gone after Stoudemire and Gay on the first day and reached agreement with them, the team would have had an impressive starting five next season. Now, if the players on their "A'' list - which also includes Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade - decide to go elsewhere, the Nets could be shut out when it comes to signing Carlos Boozer or David Lee, the other two players who were high on their radar.

The Nets, however, strongly believe their meeting with James Thursday in Cleveland went well. The Nets don't have the talent the Bulls have. And they don't play in Cleveland, LeBron's hometown. Yet they are a contender in landing the most celebrated free agent in the history of the sport.

James granted audiences with six teams in the past three days. He spoke with the Nets and Knicks on Thursday, the Heat and Clippers on Friday and the Bulls and Cavaliers Saturday. He is not expected to announce any decision until later this week.

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Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that the Nets are taking this all-or-nothing approach.

After all, it is becoming apparent that doing something in a low-key manner is not exactly new owner Mikhail Prokhorov's style.

In the week leading up to their meeting, the Nets bought a giant billboard in Manhattan near Madison Square Garden featuring Prokhorov and hip-hop impresario Jay-Z. Prokhorov's company also leased 2,500 feet in the Seagram Building on Park Avenue and is said to be moving the Nets' corporate offices there.

The Nets are not the Knicks. They don't have legions of fans praying that their team will get better through free agency. They don't have legions of fans, period. They don't have to worry about alienating an entire city if they strike out while going for the home run.

Prokhorov's whole shtick has little to do with pleasing the small corps of hard-core Nets fans who are mostly in New Jersey. Rather, he is looking to create new fans and a new buzz for his team.

The quickest way to do that isn't through signing a couple of guys who will give him a decent team. The quickest way is to land the biggest free-agent prize of all time.

What would the Nets be worth with LeBron James? Certainly significantly more than the $200 million Prokhorov paid for 80 percent of the team last December.

The Nets could end up whiffing on this one . . . or they could end up being at the center of one of the biggest off-the-court moments in NBA history.

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