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Hahn's analysis: Key to getting LeBron could be Stoudemire

Cleveland's LeBron James greets Phoenix's Amar'e Stoudemire before

Cleveland's LeBron James greets Phoenix's Amar'e Stoudemire before an NBA basketball game. (Feb. 11, 2010) Credit: AP

For Donnie Walsh, the mission is obvious: Get Amar'e Stoudemire and you get LeBron James.

Of course, it isn't quite that simple. First of all, with James' situation so unpredictable - will he stay in Cleveland, will he go to Chicago, will he choose New York? - it is believed that Stoudemire has his mind set on joining Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat.

A person with knowledge of the situation said Wade already has started making his recruiting pitch to Stoudemire, who is still playing as the Phoenix Suns face the Lakers in the Western Conference finals. NBA rules forbid teams from contacting players under contract with other teams, but players are allowed to talk to each other whenever they want.

So right now, if Stoudemire is thinking about leaving Phoenix, the advantage goes to Miami.

Chris Bosh is the other option as a high-end big, but remember James lobbied hard for the Cavaliers to acquire Stoudemire at the trade deadline. The two discussed it during All-Star weekend in February. With that in mind, if Stoudemire does test free agency, the Knicks have just enough salary-cap space - albeit barely - to deliver Stoudemire to James in New York.

According to multiple NBA sources, the Knicks also will try to work out a trade for Tony Parker, who, despite public denials, has a strong interest in coming to New York. It'll be extremely complicated, but the effort will at least be made.

Would Stoudemire choose James (and, possibly, Parker) and New York over Wade and Miami? Despite James' two-time MVP status, that is debatable. The Knicks believe that if they can convince James to come to New York, players will follow and, possibly, play for less money just for the opportunity. But is that necessarily true?

"Amar'e likes him,'' one person close to Stoudemire said, "but many guys don't.''

The person made reference to James' pregame preening and, despite his well-rounded game that involves as much passing as shooting (which can't be said about the games of Wade and Kobe Bryant), James is viewed as an extremely self-involved player.

James insulates himself with a group of handlers, most of whom are childhood friends. In fact, if the Knicks really want to lure LeBron to New York, they should sign diminutive guard Dru Joyce III, who was James' beloved teammate (and closest friend) on his famed AAU and high school teams.

Joyce is a key figure in James' life because it was his decision to attend St. Vincent-St. Mary's rather than their local public high school in Akron. James followed Joyce, and the rest was history.

Joyce, a 6-foot, 165-pound point guard, played this season in Poland and averaged 7.5 points and 3.4 assists in 18.5 minutes per game. James hooked him and another fellow teammate, Romeo Travis, with spots on the Cavs' summer league team in 2008.

The Knicks certainly can accommodate that and might even be willing to throw in a training-camp invite. And to give up a roster spot just so James can have a childhood pal with him certainly wouldn't be a deal-breaker.

None of this should be shocking. This is why John Calipari's name remains hotly rumored while Calipari continues to deny he is leaving the University of Kentucky for the NBA. A Calipari confidant said "he would have to listen'' if a team such as the Chicago Bulls or the Cavaliers approached him with a mega-million-dollar offer. And if the Bulls knew this would clinch it - though, quite frankly, how do James and Derrick Rose work as a tandem when both need the ball to be effective? - they certainly would have to make the move.

The Knicks aren't as concerned about Chicago as they are about Miami, where Wade threatens to bird-dog the one player who would appeal to James in Stoudemire. It would put Stoudemire in the middle of a recruiting war between two of the NBA's biggest stars.

The mudslinging already has begun, especially in the national media, where the city and the Knicks' franchise have been widely panned. Popular opinion is that James will avoid New York because of the tabloid media and because the franchise hasn't had a winning season in nine years. The suggestion apparently is that James can't handle New York and the pressure of making it a winner. The Knicks can only hope that message continues to resonate in James' ears: They're saying you can't make it here. That you're not good enough to succeed here.

Miami's media is soft on its stars and the weather is much more appealing. But Stoudemire wouldn't say he's afraid of the New York challenge when he was asked by Newsday Saturday during a "Twitterview'' organized by the NBA.

"New York is a great city,'' he replied via Twitter. "Players would love to play there.''

If he and James want to, they have an open invitation.

The Dolan family owns controlling interests in the Knicks, MSG and Cablevision. Cablevision owns Newsday.

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