The New York Knicks boarded their plane for Los Angeles and a sitdown with Joe Johnson, and the turbulence to come signaled the start of a wild and crazy free-agent ride on the way to LeBron James' court.
Over 3,000 miles and across a long California night the Knicks added Amare Stoudemire to their on-site itinerary, then asked him to fly to New York, and in between suddenly met with second-tier free agent Mike Miller before heading to Ohio to visit James.
"Things are changing quickly," said one Knicks source.
They won't slow down Thursday afternoon, when the team is set to meet with James in Ohio. The meeting with Johnson was booked; the meeting with Miller was something of a surprise. And as if to highlight the fluid nature of the leadup to this free-agent summer, the Knicks started their flight with no plan to meet Stoudemire. They scrambled to arrange a meeting between Mike D'Antoni and his former Phoenix star after the Suns failed to sign him to a long-term deal, and ended up speaking with him by phone. They hope to meet with Stoudemire in New York in the coming days.
Given the fact Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had already given verbal commitments to visit New York, only to ask all recruiters to see them in Chicago, the Knicks will breathe easier if and when Stoudemire touches down.
"It's better for us to do it there," the source said.
A Knicks source said the team's meeting with Johnson went well. But armed with third-party intelligence that James considers Johnson a desirable potential sidekick, the Knicks face the possibility of losing out on the Atlanta free agent in the wake of reports the Hawks are preparing to offer him a six-year deal worth around $25 million more than New York can bid.
That reality makes their pursuit of Stoudemire more urgent. The Knicks have enough salary cap room to offer maximum contracts to two free agents. If they don't land the class valedictorian, James, Johnson and Stoudemire were said to represent the Knicks' Plan B.
Gay will arrive on Thursday and stay through Friday and Lee will arrive on Saturday and spend the day. Lee also has meetings with the Bulls, Heat and Nets, ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan reports. Miami or Chicago will meet with him first, on Friday.
Shortly after the free-agent market opened at 12:01 a.m. ET on Thursday, Kahn called representatives for Gay and Lee and both accepted the invitations.
"They clearly were the two players I felt we wanted to meet and wanted to get to know better and have an opportunity to have a dialogue with," Kahn said early Thursday morning. "I'm very pleased that both of them accepted."
The invitation to Lee could be further proof that Al Jefferson's days in Minnesota are coming to an end. Lee averaged 20.2 points and 11.7 rebounds for the Knicks last season. Kahn thinks his skills fit the up-tempo offense Rambis wants to run better than Jefferson, who thrives in the halfcourt as one of the best low-post offensive players in the game.
"It is fluid. We don't know what will occur there," Kahn said of the possibility of trading Jefferson, who averaged 17.1 points and 9.3 rebounds in his first season back from major knee surgery. "David Lee plays a style of play that fits very well with who we are and who we aim to be. He's very productive. He runs very well. He's strong around the basket. Exceptional passer. We thought he would also be a very obvious fit for us going forward."