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Knicks must avoid being used

Atlanta's Joe Johnson backs down the Knicks' Wilson

Atlanta's Joe Johnson backs down the Knicks' Wilson Chandler. Photo Credit: Jason DeCrow

Beware of the eagerness of some of the information that is leaking out. For me, the idea that the Knicks are prepared to offer Joe Johnson a max contract on Wednesday night -- something you'd never get anyone in the know at 2 Penn Plaza to ever prematurely release -- is suspect.

What do Joe Johnson and his representation really want here? A full max from his home team. A six-year, $120M contract that would take him to age 35.

Johnson already turned down a four year, $60M extension offer this past season, so it's clear he's looking for more. So what better strategy than to use the most desperate team on the market by suggesting the Knicks will go full max with Joe on Day 1 -- not even Day 1, Day -1 -- and give the Hawks today and tomorrow to consider investing almost half of the franchise's value ($306M according to Forbes) into one player.

I asked Walsh last week if he was wary of being used -- as New York usually is -- merely as leverage to get a players preferred team to ante up.

"I'm going to make an assumption that nobody's playing around out there," Walsh replied. "If they're going to meet with you and you're going to meet with them, then they're serious and that's how I'm going to treat it."

But recall last year when Jason Kidd went through the process of visiting the Knicks on July 1 only to get Mark Cuban to race out to New York City the night before and promise to guarantee an extra year. And all the Knicks could offer was the MLE, but the plan worked perfectly for Kidd.

Teams do this all the time. Once it got out that the Knicks were talking with the Trail Blazers about Rudy Fernandez, suddenly Portland was trying to get better offer for Moody Rudy. The Raptors were floated out on the rumor mill, but they were not even interested.

There are even indications that this meeting on Thursday in suburban Akron is a mere formality for LeBron, who has allegedly already made up his mind, depending on what national media personality you wish to believe and what NBA executive, player, agent, scout, coach or equipment manager you talk to on a given day.

Actually, the hot dog vendor at the AT&T Center in San Antonio swears LeBron is going to sign with Regal FC Barcelona because he is very intrigued about playing with Ricky Rubio. And that vendor is plugged in, yo.

As we reported today, the Knicks do have tentative plans to be in Los Angeles for the midnight deadline on Wednesday, which would be 9 p.m. Pacific time. We know for certain that Johnson and Stoudemire will be in L.A. on Wednesday. 

But the Hawks plan to be there, as well. And what Johnson wants is the Knicks presence to scare the Hawks into giving up the farm for him to keep their middle-of-the-pack team right where they are.

The Knicks, especially Mike D'Antoni, are high on Johnson as a talent, but they're not convinced he is a centerpiece, which is why a package deal of him and his buddy Amar'e would set a much better cornerstone. And as I reported today, the Knicks won't offer a max contract before they first see if Johnson and Stoudemire would consider coming to New York for a little less than max in the first year (say $14M-$15M range for each) to allow the Knicks to use their cap space to add a third player, most likely a high-end point guard to bring it all together (Tony Parker, Darren Collison, Ray Felton, etc.).

The Knicks can try to sell taking less by suggesting that by moving their careers to New York (and, they hope, winning), both Johnson and Stoudemire will benefit financially off the court to make up the difference. Maybe Nike won't pay LeBron James any more money if he moved to a bigger market, but most other players have clauses in their sneaker deals that escalate the value of their endorsement deal if they are in a top market such as New York, Los Angeles or Chicago.

Most Knicks fans might view Johnson/Stoudemire as a letdown after two years of waiting for LeBron, but the Knicks did everything they could to get a sit-down with The King. That's as far as they could have ever controlled it. At this point, it's his decision. 

That's not to say the LeDream is over. The Knicks have their pitch to him and his inner-circle on Thursday afternoon and they will go in guns a-blazing, hoping to elevate their status in his mind by accentuating their positives. At this point, those in his ear have been mostly dismissing the Knicks for not being championship-ready.

New York Sports