This marathon to the free agency period has turned into a sprint and the Knicks are quickly slipping behind.
Multiple reports, including this one by Yahoo! Sports, have surfaced that the first team that will head to that neutral site in Northeast Ohio to meet with LeBron James will be the Nets. An NBA player last night told Newsday that James is more enamored with the idea of joining the Nets over the Knicks, even with the two-year wait in Newark before the team is expected to move to a new arena in Brooklyn.
The player told me to "be the first reporter to start writing the Nets as the team he's most likely to go, because that's what it's sounding like."
Though it is expected that Rod Thorn will leave the franchise sometime in mid-July, new owner Mikhail Prokhorov is one of the main reasons why James and his group are turned on by the Nets. In his pitch to LeBron, Prokhorov plans to discuss his plans to globalize the Nets franchise, with James as the centerpiece and the Brooklyn address as the attraction. Avery Johnson had success as a coach, can be tough on players but understands what it takes to be a pro (something James really wants out of his next coach) and puts an emphasis on defense.
The Nets feel confident they will have a chance at LeBron and it could be part of the reason why they opted to draft power forward Derrick Favors (of course he does have huge upside) with the No. 3 pick rather than select Wesley Johnson and target a power forward such as Amar'e Stoudemire, Chris Bosh or Carlos Boozer with free agency. The Nets have enough room to offer one max contract plus plenty of space for a second-tier player or two. Favors will be slotted next to Brook Lopez in the frontcourt.
Unless the Nets try to package Favors in a sign-and-trade for Bosh or Stoudemire, it isn't likely LeBron will come to New Jersey with another superstar like he could with the Knicks. But the Nets feel with Lopez, Favors and Devin Harris, they already have solid pieces. And they can add a formidable supporting cast with their remaining cap space.
Other well-connected national reporters such as Adrian Wojnarowski (Yahoo!) and Chris Broussard (ESPN) still maintain that the Chicago Bulls are the lead dogs in this race. Note they have Derrick Rose, a good defensive center in Joakim Noah and a defensive-minded coach in Tom Thibodeau. Like the Nets, they have enough cap space for one max offer and plenty left over to add second-tier pieces.
Broussard made it crystal clear he has a pipeline to the main man in the LeBron inner-circle, Maverick Carter, when he quoted him directly in Friday night's bombshell report that James won't be making a city-by-city free agency tour.
We've been telling you for a few days now that the Knicks very much need to focus their attention on Chris Bosh at the start of free agency, while James is talking to the Nets. He could be their only chance to grab James' attention.