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Niketown before New York?

One possible partner in the Knicks attempt to lure LeBron James to New York may step out of the campaign before it even starts. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, James hinted that he may already have a contract extension agreement in the works with his most lucrative business partner, Nike.

James told the Plain Dealer, "I don't plan on going anywhere," which was in relation to other sneaker companies (exhale, Knicks fans) and added, "maybe I already have an agreement."

James' seven year, $100 million deal with Nike expires this summer, coincidentally in time with free agency. There have been suggestions that Nike would give him a larger sum in his next deal if he played in a bigger market and would be willing to write an enormous check -- enough to also cover the difference between what the Cavaliers can offer and what the Knicks can offer by rule of the CBA -- if he went to New York.

But if James already has an agreement in place, is it a sign that he already knows where he'll wind up this summer?

Perhaps, or maybe he merely has an agreement to stay with Nike, with the dollar amount still to be determined by whereever he lands.

Nike already has LeBron's image on a huge billboard right outside the Garden at the corner of 7th and 34th. LeBron has owned that billboard for most of the last four years, with Adrian Peterson and Nate Robinson as the few other pro athletes to be featured there, but only briefly. With global status already achieved -- though not yet near that of transcending icons such as Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, Magic Johnson and even Kobe Bryant (think: rings) -- there is enough reason to believe that LeBron doesn't "need" New York nearly as much as New York needs him.

Toss this one onto the fire, which LeBron has cleverly kept burning strong even after announcing that he would no longer talk about free agency (which came after his one and only visit to New York this season).

Since then, there have been several situations where cryptic messages were delivered:

- A Nike shoe appeared on eBay of a purported prototype sneaker by Nike in a Knicks colorway (blue-and-orange) with I Love NY on the heel. This was quickly dismissed as a fake. It should be noted that the Cavaliers wear orange-and-blue this season when they wear throwback uniforms from the 1980s.

- James filed paperwork with the NBA to change his uniform number from 23 to 6. If he was switching teams he wouldn't have to request the change from the league, so immediately the speculation was that he was set on staying in Cleveland. Of course he could have filed the paperwork out of precaution in case he does decide to stay.

- After beating the Knicks in Cleveland, James was at the Garden on March 2 to attend Jay-Z's concert and was videotaped by several fans dancing and singing along to the New York anthem, "Empire State of Mind." The Cavs were in town to play the Nets the following day so his presence in New York was not surprising. But it was the second time James has been seen dancing and singing to the song at a Jay-Z concert. In October, James joined Jay-Z on stage at Cleveland State to sing the song in front of a packed house of nervous Ohioans.

- ESPN's Ric Bucher recently had a report from a "source" who said if the Knicks can land Joe Johnson as a free agent, it would make them much more attractive to James and could be what it takes to get him to leave the Cavaliers.

- Last week in Chicago, when told he looks like he enjoys his current teammates so why wouldn't he just commit to staying with Cleveland, James turned serious and said, "At the end of the day, it's still a business. This isn't high school basketball anymore. You have to do what is best for your family and what is best for yourself. I've always said I love being in Cleveland. But for me as a basketball player, no matter what happens, I love to play the game. I play it with joy and I love my teammates."

For those keeping score, we're under 100 days to go until July 1. The only thing I can promise you is it will only get crazier.

And that seems to be exactly what LeBron wants.


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