Hahn's analysis: Knicks, Nets begin competition for LeBron on Thursday
All the Knicks have wanted since Mission 2010 began two years ago was to get an audience with LeBron James on Thursday, when the NBA free-agency season begins. They already have been assured of at least that much by James' representation, which Wednesday contacted all six teams that intend to target James this summer.
An NBA source Saturday told Newsday that the Knicks will get immediate face time with James at an undisclosed location in northeast Ohio, likely near his Bath Township home. The Nets reportedly also will meet with the two-time MVP on Thursday.
Though the Chicago Bulls have been promoted by several national media outlets as the most likely destination for James, several NBA insiders believe the Nets may be emerging late as front-runners in the LeBron Sweepstakes.
Adding to the intrigue was an Internet report Saturday that Dwyane Wade's representation has contacted the Knicks to inform them of his interest in visiting New York to discuss free agency. James decided to pass on the lavish Manhattan dinner party, which would have attracted an unwanted media frenzy, but Wade apparently is all for it.
Though Wade on several occasions publicly has stated a desire to remain with the Miami Heat, which has carved out enough salary-cap space to re-sign him and still have enough left over for another max contract offer, it is believed that Wade is at least intrigued with what playing in New York could do for his profile. And if James opts for the Nets and Wade chooses the Knicks, it immediately would create a rivalry of exponential magnitude.
Chris Bosh, another top free agent who shares the same agent as Wade, also has informed the Knicks that he plans to visit New York. The Knicks have the cap space to offer two max contracts and plan to do so.
Though Wade is a long shot, Bosh unquestionably is high on the Knicks' free-agent list, and a person with knowledge of the situation said the Knicks will make him a priority. Whether it helps them with LeBron or not, it is believed the Knicks hope to sign Bosh.
The Garden contingent headed to Ohio will be led by Knicks president Donnie Walsh and coach Mike D'Antoni and likely will include Allan Houston and Garden president Scott O'Neil.
The Nets will be represented by new owner Mikhail Prokhorov, hip hop superstar Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter, who owns a small stake in the Nets' franchise and is one of James' closest friends, and new coach Avery Johnson.
Prokhorov has unlimited resources and a reputation - at least in Russia - of sparing no expense for the sake of success. Prokhorov also will look to appeal to James' business goals by addressing his plan to turn the Nets into a global franchise.
The Knicks can respond by saying the Garden already is a global entity. It even comes with a moniker that says so: "World's Most Famous Arena."
Still, if the Garden itself isn't enough, perhaps Sean "Puffy" Combs, who is believed to be involved in the Knicks' planning, could be a key figure because of his success in the hip hop and fashion worlds. Carter and James aim to create a music label and also get into the fashion industry. The Knicks' message, with Combs' help, is simple: If you want to accomplish these goals, you need to be in New York to make it happen.
James and Carter already are close to Jay-Z, who has developed his own successful brands in both music (Rocafella Records) and fashion (Rocawear). They also are close with entertainment mogul David Geffen, who has wanted to buy Donald Sterling's majority share in the Clippers for quite a while. The Clippers have enough cap space to offer James a max contract and are among the teams he's considering.
But the most significant part of the pitch is going to be when D'Antoni presents his case from a basketball perspective. The Knicks need to counter the perception that the other teams have better talent on their rosters by pointing out that the Nets and Bulls lack the necessary perimeter shooters (the weakest part of Derrick Rose's dynamic game, for instance) that complement James' multifaceted skill set.
The Knicks already have three-point threat Danilo Gallinari and will add to that by targeting three of the league's best shooters - Ray Allen, Mike Miller and Kyle Korver - in free agency. The Knicks will argue that they can build a better supporting cast with their vast amount of cap space (with Bosh as a main man) and potentially also will have flexibility next summer to add more pieces via free agency once Eddy Curry's contract expires.
And though they won't be able to parade James through Times Square and take him to the top of the Empire State Building because he won't be touring, they will convey the message that New York City is superior to any address in the world.
James doesn't need a tour of the city, anyway. Considering that he's been seen clubbing in some tony Chelsea hot spots recently, he already knows it well.
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