- Chris Broussard, NBA analyst
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When the clock strikes midnight ET in New York on July 1, Knicks team president Donnie Walsh and coach Mike D'Antoni will be in Los Angeles meeting with Johnson, who will hold all of his meetings with clubs on the West Coast. The Knicks' brass will fly to northeast Ohio to woo James at 1 p.m. ET on Thursday.
While the Hawks hope to keep Johnson in Atlanta, several sources said the Knicks have emerged as his first choice. If they must lose him, the Hawks' preference is to work out a sign-and-trade deal with the Knicks.
But if no players on the Knicks' roster appeal to Atlanta, Johnson, believing he will make up the difference through endorsements and through buying stock shares in Madison Square Garden, is willing to take less money to play with the Knicks, according to sources.
Whatever the case, the Knicks could offer Johnson a maximum-salary contract worth approximately $96 million over five years, or a deal worth $125 million over six years through a sign-and-trade.
Walsh and D'Antoni also hope to meet with Amare Stoudemire while in Los Angeles.
Johnson and Stoudemire emerged as star players while playing for D'Antoni in Phoenix, which is a large part of the reason both players are considering New York so strongly.
Johnson averaged double figures (16.7 ppg) for the first time in his career while playing for D'Antoni in the 2003-04 season. That same year, Stoudemire went from being a 13-point scorer to a 20-point scorer in D'Antoni's wide-open system.
While the Knicks' main target is James, the duo of Johnson and Stoudemire would be a nice consolation prize if James goes elsewhere. The team thinks James and Johnson would be a particularly strong tandem, and it believes that Johnson will talk to James about the benefits of joining forces in New York.
James' first meeting will be with the New Jersey Nets on the morning of July 1, followed by the Knicks and several other clubs over the next few days.
Chris Broussard covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine.
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