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Another meeting gives LeBron-to-Knicks second life

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James holds up his New

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James holds up his New York Yankees hat during Game 1 of an American League Division Series between the Yankees and Cleveland Indians, in Cleveland. (Oct. 4, 2007) Photo Credit: AP File

The Knicks still are in the hunt for The King.

After team officials wrapped up three days of free-agency meetings Friday night in Chicago, team president Donnie Walsh dispatched two officials from the group to meet with Leon Rose, the agent who represents LeBron James, on Saturday morning in Cleveland, multiple sources with knowledge of the meeting told Newsday.

The team had been in touch with Amar'e Stoudemire that same evening and received an indication that Stoudemire was strongly considering a max contract offer to sign with the Knicks. Whether the two situations are connected is uncertain, but Knicks officials also met with free agent Chris Bosh on Friday, and after that meeting ended, the group remained in a conference room for well over an hour.

Walsh then sent MSG Sports president Scott O'Neil and Knicks executive vice president Glen Grunwald to meet with Rose and, according to two sources, delve deeper into the Knicks' plan to build a championship-caliber team around James with their estimated $34.5 million in salary-cap space. The plan included a second max player, which could be Stoudemire or perhaps Bosh.

After the Knicks met with James on Thursday in Cleveland, Walsh indicated the possibility of a follow-up meeting. Walsh was not present for the second sit-down, nor was James.

With Stoudemire already in New York - he attended team owner James Dolan's annual Fourth of July party last night in Oyster Bay after attending the Yankees-Blue Jays game and is scheduled to meet with Knicks officials Monday at the Garden - the Knicks appear close to landing at least one of the top free agents, but the motivation behind the last two years of salary-cap hoarding has been to get LeBron.

He is not expected to announce his decision until Thursday, when the NBA's moratorium on free-agent signings and trades is lifted. It is impossible to gauge which team he will choose among the leading five - the Knicks, Nets, Bulls, Heat and Cavaliers - mainly because reports have been wildly inconsistent. The Knicks, in fact, have been the one team that almost every report suggests has the lowest probability of landing LeBron.

The Knicks, however, have believed all along that they are very much in the competition. But there has been an underlying resignation that James, who grew up in nearby Akron, might find it too emotionally difficult to leave his hometown Cavaliers.

The concern for James, 25, is that a commitment to Cleveland comes with no guarantees of a championship with the Cavaliers, who are well over the salary cap and have little flexibility. The team has explored trade scenarios to improve the roster - even a sign-and-trade for Bosh - but the reality is there are few options.

Another concern James might consider is that once the dust settles on the free- agency frenzy, if he remains in Cleveland, he quickly becomes a non-story. The last thing he likely would want is to see his Q-rating stagnate while budding stars such as Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and John Wall grow in popularity.

And Kobe Bryant, with five championship rings in the No. 2 market, remains the most popular player in the league.

"If he stays in Cleveland, that's when the story gets old," said Dan Klores, who built a publicity and marketing empire and now produces and directs films and shows. "I guarantee you, if he stays in Cleveland, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant are the faces of the league. But if he comes to New York, it's all him."

In the Cavaliers' meeting with James on Saturday, just after the Knicks finished with agent Rose, Cleveland showed James a 10-minute video seemingly designed to tug at his heartstrings. The message was simple: Please don't leave. The message, however, lacked a detailed explanation on how James could accomplish all of his goals by staying.

James still could choose the Billionaire Ambition route by going to New York - but opting for the Brooklyn-bound Nets, who have projected a great deal of confidence since their initial meeting with James Thursday morning. The Bulls had been promoted as an early front-runner by media reports, mainly from ESPN, but the chatter has subsided.

The Knicks have reason to be concerned about coming out of free agency empty-handed, though Stoudemire does appear to be very close.

If the Knicks don't wind up with James or Dwyane Wade, the most likely fallback option would be to sign versatile sharpshooter Mike Miller and then address a need at point guard, with Tony Parker and free agents such as Raymond Felton and Luke Ridnour among the options.

Johnson, Hawks agree. While everyone waits for James and Wade, Joe Johnson, whom the Knicks also pursued, has removed himself from the sweepstakes by committing to a six-year, $119-million offer to stay with the Atlanta Hawks. His agent, Arn Tellem, confirmed it via his own personal blog on the Huffington Post website.

The Dolan family owns controlling interests in the Knicks, MSG and Cablevision. Cablevision owns Newsday.

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