Commentary

Knicks' stance: What, us worry?

Team's non-eventful draft overshadowed by other clubs' LeBron maneuvering

Updated: June 25, 2010, 2:12 AM ET
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- No matter how much extra salary cap room the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat cleared this week, president Donnie Walsh and coach Mike D'Antoni still believe the New York Knicks will be in great shape when free agency opens July 1.

Not necessarily in the driver's seat, but sitting pretty nonetheless.

As D'Antoni put it: "[The competition] is stiff anyway, and everybody is trying to do more or less the same thing. But as long as we can keep the Empire State Building where it is, we'll be OK."

Draft night Thursday felt more like One Week Until Free Agency Night, the Knicks declining to trade into the first round despite having an opportunity to do so, and instead holding on to the 38th and 39th picks. They selected guard Andy Rautins of Syracuse and small forward Landry Fields of Stanford.

If it all works out the way the Knicks envision, Rautins and Fields will learn sometime in early October whether LeBron James prefers Dunkin' Donuts or Krispy Kreme, and which particular flavors and quantities they'll be required to bring to practice each morning as part of their rookie hazing.

The difficult part will be getting James and a second top-tier free agent, and the competition did indeed get tougher in the past two days. Chicago agreed to deal Kirk Hinrich and a No. 1 pick to Washington to move approximately $33 million below the salary cap -- enough money to sign two max-salary free agents. Miami cleared $3.3 million in additional cap room by trading a No. 1 pick and Daequan Cook, and now has enough room to re-sign Dwyane Wade, add another max salary free agent and still have $10-11 million of leftover spending money.

All of which made Walsh basically shrug.

"The situation in Miami is a little different than us. To analyze it and say, 'Well, now they've got a lot more cap room,' yeah, they do. But if they're wanting to sign some of their own players, then that would lessen it," Walsh said, adding that he believes the Heat cleared the additional room as a way to retain free agent Udonis Haslem. "As far as Chicago, they've got more cap money than they had. There's no doubt about that."

But what happens after July 1, and under what kind of a timetable it plays out, remains a total mystery.

New York is at risk of losing unrestricted free agent David Lee if he is given an offer he can't refuse from another team while the Knicks and others are waiting on James, which would deprive New York of the ability to use Lee in a sign-and-trade deal for a second free agent, or to retain him.

But even with that being the case, Walsh sounded as though he expects to be kept waiting for at least a few days.

"I'm going to make an assumption that nobody's playing around out there, the players or us. If they're going to meet with you and you're going to meet with them, then you're serious -- and that's how I'm going to treat it. I'm not going to say one guy's more important than the other, but you can probably only do one guy a day," Walsh said.

The Cleveland Plain-Dealer is reporting that the Knicks are seeking to rent out a posh Manhattan penthouse to wine and dine James with a recruiting pitch on July 1, the first days that teams other than the Cleveland Cavaliers can speak to the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent.

Under the "one guy a day" approach that Walsh feels is inevitable, we can surmise that July 2 will be set aside for Dwyane Wade, July 3 for Chris Bosh and July 4 for Dirk Nowitzki/Amare Stoudemire/Carlos Boozer/Joe Johnson.

There is a one-week moratorium on free-agent signings that ends July 8, but players are not prohibited from making verbal commitments during the interim. That's one of the things that is going to make this process extra tricky, and the Knicks will be at a disadvantage when competing with the Bulls when it comes to selling a top free agent on which team has the better supporting cast.

Chicago can tout the appeal of playing alongside Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, while New York's only five players under contract for next season are Eddy Curry, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Toney Douglas and Bill Walker.

Also, the Los Angeles Clippers and New Jersey Nets both have max salary cap room and cannot be completely discounted at competition for James. And there is always the possibility that James will decide not to turn his back on the state of Ohio and will choose to remain with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

So while there is a clear Plan A, there is not a clear-cut Plan B.

Which is probably the primary reason why Walsh, his voice unusually raspy, described himself as "anxious" approaching the biggest future-determining moment in franchise history.

"I want to get it on, I want to see the franchise step up and be competitive, step up and be more than competitive. It's been a difficult two years for me," Walsh said. "But you have to live through some tough times to get to where you're rebuilding your franchise. How well and how fast we can rebuild the team can be shortcut by getting great players. If it's not that way, then we'll do it another way. But we're in a better position than we were two years ago."

But only because they have hope.

And if that hope turns out to be a pipe dream, and if Chicago or Miami sealed the deal with their latest moves, it'll be a dark, dark July in New York.

"I'm not going to make a life-and-death situation out of it," Walsh said.

But for others, including the team's long-suffering fan base, that's more or less what it amounts to.

And in one week, life or death begins.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN.com.


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