"While Eeyore frets and Piglet hesitates and Rabbit calculates and Owl pontificates, Pooh just is." -- Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh
The Knicks braintrust whittles away the anxious days until July 1 by holding meetings to strategize their free agency plans, meetings to strategize how to market the results and hosting pre-draft workouts for second-round caliber players that have, so far, left no one excited about making the No. 38 and 39 picks.
While in Cleveland it’s either about to all come together or it’s all coming apart. Danny Ferry’s departure was the result of Cavs owner Dan Gilbert making the decision to take on the Jerry Jones role. Ferry didn’t want the job if it did not come with full autonomy, so he decided to walk away (those Duke guys are an intelligent lot). So Gilbert instead promoted Chris Grant, who is an intelligent and hard-working personnel guy, but, let’s be honest, he’s there, as one NBA executive noted, “to be the mechanic.”
Ferry had told confidants that he was philosophically against the idea of hiring John Calipari, no matter how much LeBron James wanted him. With Gilbert making the calls now – check that, making the calls based on what LeBron would want – the first call is to the college ranks, but not to Calipari. According to the News-Herald, it's to Michigan State's Tom Izzo. But Izzo can't leave the comfort zone in Lansing for the uncertainty of Cleveland unless he has some assurances that James will be there, too.
This is the chicken-and-egg situation Gilbert and the Cavs find themselves in at this point, because you certainly can’t hire a high-end coach unless you have LeBron signed first. So it goes without saying that part of signing LeBron is agreeing to hire his choice as head coach.
It’s also to clear out the players James doesn’t want on the team anymore, so it’s understandable that immediately after Ferry’s departure came reports out of Cleveland that Mo Williams and Delonte West would be shopped. What Gilbert may learn is that while he’s been willing to take on bad contracts, no one else in the league will be doing this – not even the Knicks – with the current CBA set to expire.
The prevailing opinion (which we subscribe to) is that LeBron will wind up staying in Cleveland for a short-term deal or one with an ETO after two years, still, the Knicks have to feel confident their pitch will at least give LeBron something to consider, especially when you factor in the clean slate roster and salary cap situation, the established coach with the popular system that fits his skill set and, of course, the unmatched magnitude of a move to the Garden stage, which the NBA and ESPN (and Nike) would gleefully use to produce stratospheric promotions to the point that even Martians will be flying in to purchase tickets and merchandise.
But even if LeBron feels it’s time to make a break from Cleveland, understand that New York is hardly a given as his choice destination.
It’s Chicago that looms as the toughest opponent in the way. Well of course they are. It was like that in the 1990s when the Bulls previously had the league’s best player. Da Bulls are always in the damn way.
Not only do they have a hell of a wingman in Derrick Rose, they just came up with a terrific hire in Tom Thibodeau, who includes Kobe Bryant among his platinum-member references and gained a great deal of credit in formulating the defense that stopped LeBron in that stunning second-round upset.
But while Thibodeau deserves his due for the Celtics’ successes in the 2008 championship season and this year’s run to the Finals, it’s fair to acknowledge that LeBron had a lot more to do with his ineffective, seemingly uninspired play in that pivotal Game 5 than anything the Celtics were doing. “He was,” as one longtime NBA assistant coach noted, “completely detached.”
Thibodeau almost took the Hornets job, but switched gears when Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf made a last-second offer. It’s been widely-publicized that Reinsdorf doesn’t deal with agents, so Thibodeau’s connection with Creative Artists Agency, which includes newly-minted coaching agent William “Worldwide Wes” Wesley, couldn’t possibly have any impact on the Bulls’ decision to target Thibodeau, could it?
Perhaps there's not that much of a conspiracy behind a team hiring the best available assistant coach, but it's worth noting that of the likely group of assistants and staff Thibodeau will take with him to Chicago – Mo Cheeks, Ron Adams and Andy Greer are each coaches Thibodeau has previously worked with – Rick Brunson, a former Knick and Bull, is expected to be considered for a player development position, according to the Chicago Tribune. Brunson was the first-ever NBA client of Leon Rose, the agent who represents LeBron James, works closely with Wesley and is affiliated with CAA.
But he is also a Jeff Van Gundy disciple and, as such, has a close relationship with Thibodeau that goes back to his days as a Knicks reserve. Brunson played for nine NBA teams during his career and worked his way through the college game with stops in Virginia and Hartford, so is certainly deserving of a position. But as we've seen from the countless reports in this pre-free agency madness is everyone likes to connect the dots.
None of it has gone unnoticed at 2 Penn Plaza. In fact, just as much as the franchise is preparing for a billion-dollar pitch to get LeBron, there is just as much of an emphasis on the plan without LeBron. And here’s what appears to be the most significant principle of that plan that Knicks fans should know: there does not appear to be a Wait-Til-Next-Year plan.
While no one should expect that the sage and calculated Donnie Walsh will cover his eyes and throw cash at whoever walks through the door, it is likely the Knicks will be extremely aggressive this summer in an effort to build a contending roster, with or without LeBron James. It may not come via free agency, either. According to several sources, the Spurs may be downplaying trade rumors involving Tony Parker, but they are clearly ready to consider moves. The franchise committed to Manu Ginobili and have George Hill as a built-in replacement, which has made Parker expendable. But at what cost?
The Knicks would love to get a deal done before July 1 as an attention-grabber for free agents, but it might take the rights to David Lee in a sign-and-trade to get the Spurs talking. If that’s the case, it couldn’t happen until after July 1, because, as a one-year contract player, Lee can’t be signed to an extension.
Parker is an obvious target. His offensive skills, which are very close to Steve Nash (though Parker gets to the rim much better than Nash), make him a perfect fit for Mike D’Antoni’s system. He’s not the passer that Nash is, but Parker can be a very effective pick-and-roll player and then the Knicks would need to target a big man in free agency who would fit well with Parker, such as Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris Bosh or Carlos Boozer. And with that extra room the Knicks could also still be aggressive and go after Joe Johnson, who would form a dynamic backcourt with Parker (just as he would in Chicago with Derrick Rose), or, at a more affordable number, target restricted free agent Rudy Gay. Hey, if LeBron doesn’t come to the Knicks, the Knicks are gonna need to find someone to guard him because if you plan on being in the playoffs, you have to plan on beating LeBron.
But, still, the goal remains to have him on their side. The Bulls had Michael in the 90s. After countless heartbreaks, the basketball gods owe Knicks fans LeBron.
But it will take more than just a billion-dollar sales pitch, which has been polished and spit-shined and even has gone through dress rehearsals. It will involve the assistance of New York City and all of its accoutrements. The Yankees will have a homestand that first weekend of July and we’ve promoted the idea of getting LeBron to the stadium to throw out the first pitch and get the Bleacher Bums to include him in the roll call (hell, if the kid wants to bat clean-up, just name your price, Mr. Steinbrenner).
But then I was told by an experienced television insider that while the Yankees would love to see LeBron in New York, the franchise might prefer he do so for the team that plays on their network during the dormant winter months.
Imagine that, the Nets not only have Jay-Z, they may also have the Yankees.