From the vibes I continue to get over the past several days, if the Knicks somehow still wind up signing LeBron James, it would be the greatest comeback in franchise history, surpassing even Nov. 18, 1972.
The Knicks are very aware of their swift decline on the LeBron Leaderboard and are making last-minute arrangements to avoid disaster and contingency plans to make quick transitions to other options. Depending on which insider you speak with -- or which national media outlet you follow -- James is said to be favoring a move to the Bulls, Heat, Nets or could still stay home with the Cavaliers.
What matters for the Knicks isn't that the only consistent information among the reports is that the Knicks aren't ever mentioned.
One of the many sources I've spoken with over the last week is a person who is closely-connected with one of the top free agents available and is privy to conversations among these top targets. The Knicks just don't seem to be a preferred option.
"I think," this person told me, "the Knicks are in big trouble."
Now that's just one man's opinion, but I believe it to be informed opinion. In fact, there are strong indications that the Knicks could throw up an air ball on this long-awaited trip to the free throw line to win it all. But with 36 hours (as of this writing) to the official start of the NBA's free agency season, Donnie Walsh and Co. still have time to get back into the game.
The most important thing for the Knicks right now is to maintain a united front. With the rampant speculation, division within the ranks can happen. There may be a faction that believes it's time to cut bait and give up on catching The Big One and instead fish in another lake before it's empty while another side maintains confidence in their lures and believes they can still get it done.
There is so much at stake here for the Knicks as a franchise, but none more than Walsh and Mike D'Antoni, who employed this plan two years ago and saw it through. To see James leave Cleveland, which was once thought to be a longshot, and go to another team would be horrifying.
As we reported in today's Newsday, the Knicks lack one critical element that would have them in contention, if not at the top of the list: an established star already on the roster, which would give LeBron reason to believe the team could be close to a championship. A source told me the last two drafts really hurt the Knicks because they were unable to install key pieces to set a more attractive foundation. For instance -- and I know I've worn this point out but it continues to ring true -- if the Knicks had been able to come away with Stephen Curry in the 2009 draft, the source told me "They'd have [LeBron] already."
Instead, they missed Curry by one pick and came away with Jordan Hill, who turned into an asset that helped open up more salary cap space for a second max contract offer, which, coincidentally, might be their last resort at getting LeBron. As we reported in today's Newsday, the Knicks recruiting tour will first jet out to Los Angeles tomorrow to get the jump on Joe Johnson.
Here's the best-case scenario right now: Johnson agrees in principle and the Knicks take that with them to Akron on Thursday afternoon to present LeBron with a supporting cast of two of the NBA's top perimeter threats, Johnson and Danilo Gallinari, and a few bucks left over to get a decent 4 (won't have enough cash left for David Lee). LeBron is so enamored by the Knicks' effort and the billion-dollar potential in his connection with Madison Square Garden that he agrees to jet back to New York City that evening and take part in that exhaustively-planned dinner party after all.
It's right about here in your idealistic daydream that this song begins to play.
Now listen to this song and snap the hell out of it.
Things are so intensely desperate, the Knicks are apparently still trying to clear more cap space to possibly come up with a third max, as our buddy K-Berg reports on CBSSports.com. But, as K-Berg even admits, moving Eddy Curry's $11.2M salary for essentially nothing (or, better yet, in a sign-and-trade for one of those high-end free agents) is unequivocally improbable. Here's where desperation really begins to set in: when you start hearing Gallinari's name in possible trade talk just to get deeper under the cap.
T-minus 36 hours and counting, Fixers. Can the Knicks get Super Joe to sign on right away and hope Joe gets them LeBron? Remember, Johnson has the Bulls as an option -- a more cozy situation because he'd play off Derrick Rose, rather than come here to the Garden crucible as The Man -- if LeBron opts to stay in Cleveland or go to Mi---nah, let that one remain fictionalized. No way that's even remotely believable.
There is also still a chance the Hawks could blow this whole thing up by offering Joe a six-year, $120M max. Yes, considering the Hawks ownership situation, there is little reason to believe they would invest that much into one player. But if they entertained a sign-and-trade offer from another team (the Mavericks are reportedly trying), that compromises things dramatically, as well.
In fact, though the Knicks are believed to have Rudy Gay very much in their LeBron Disaster Emergency Relief Plan, he suddenly becomes extremely important to them if both LeBron and Joe are off the table.
Notice I have yet to mention Dwyane Wade's name in any of this? He comes to visit New York on Friday and you have to be extremely skeptical of the sincerity of this visit, if it even does actually happen.