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It's 2010, Knicks fans, and you know what that means

As the calendar finally flips to those precious digits - 2010 - that have been the inspiration of the Knicks' rebuilding project, some photos of an apparent sample version of LeBron James' new Nike sneaker have been circulating on the Internet.

It's the Air Max LeBron VII Low, which has a version with a very curious blue-and-orange color scheme and a not-so-subliminal "I Love NY" logo on the heel - a lion head symbol replaces the heart - along with a question mark in the inner sole.

It was put on eBay for $349 by a sneaker supplier in Taiwan. But although it's a very clever design, multiple sources told Newsday it is, indeed, fake. One Nike-based source said, "We haven't released any New York-specific shoes. I'm pretty sure it's a fake."

Still, it's not as if James and Nike haven't made reference to New York before on his feet. He wore a special "Big Apple" sneaker for his game against the Knicks on Nov. 25, 2008. Before that, Nike made a LeBron sneaker honoring the Yankees, James' favorite baseball team.

James will play his first game of the 2010 calendar year in the New York area when the Cavaliers visit the Nets tomorrow. The Nets, of course, also have James very much on their radar this summer and hope to sell the promise of the awaited move to Brooklyn in 2012.

It's now exactly six months before any team can make an official recruiting pitch to James on July 1, when the NBA's free-agency season begins. The Knicks - who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday - are well into the planning stage and used last summer's overtures to free agents Jason Kidd and Grant Hill as rehearsals.

You can expect the Garden to try to take full advantage of the fact that the Yankees will be in the midst of a homestand on July 1. But it would help if the Knicks could sell their own success - and building-block players such as Danilo Gallinari and David Lee - to James rather than living vicariously through the Yankees' championship.

A 9-6 record in December has helped the Knicks elevate themselves into legitimate playoff contention in the East as the midpoint of the season approaches. The month of January also offers great opportunity, with only five of the 15 games against teams with winning records. The first is Friday night in Atlanta against the Hawks, whom the Knicks defeated, 114-107, on Dec. 4.

Mike D'Antoni said his team had to have strong performances in December and January "because November sucked." The franchise-worst 1-9 start seems far behind them now, but at 12-20, they remain the same eight games under .500.

A playoff berth clearly is the priority at this point, as evidenced by Eddy Curry's demotion out of the rotation. The Knicks potentially could clear enough space for two maximum contracts next summer if they were able to trade Curry (and his $11.2-million salary in 2010-11) for an expiring contract. But as long as he's not playing, his trade value is as legitimate as those ersatz LeBrons.

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