Commentary

Knicks, Nets to LeBron: See the future

Yes, right now is important -- but local teams will also sell glory of things to come

Updated: June 30, 2010, 3:48 PM ET
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

Mikhail Prokhorov and Jay-Z get to go first, and they can personally deliver the news that workers started pouring concrete this week at the site of the New Jersey Nets' new arena in Brooklyn.

The New York Knicks' Jim Dolan and Mike D'Antoni get to go second, selling the notion of being the greatest superstar ever to call the Mecca of Basketball his home -- a home that has already been built and is undergoing a three-year renovation.

The pitches will come Thursday in or around the city of Akron, Ohio, and it remains to be seen whether there will be news helicopters hovering over the limousines as they make their way from the airport to the designated meeting site (that's what happened in San Antonio in 2003 -- a few days after LeBron James was drafted -- when Jason and Joumana Kidd came to town to be wooed by the team Jason had just lost to in the NBA Finals.)

The fact that the Nets are being allowed to speak to James first, on Thursday morning, would seem to be a gesture of respect from James toward his hip-hop mogul friend, Jay-Z, who retained his small ownership share in the New Jersey franchise when a majority stake in the team was sold this spring by Bruce Ratner to Prokhorov.

[+] EnlargeLeBron Curry
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIEddy Curry's contract comes off the books next summer, giving the Knicks room to spend again.

The Russian oligarch is flying directly from Russia to America aboard his private jet to attend the meeting, a global business icon trying to convince a global sports icon that Brooklyn (which LeBron deemed his favorite borough two summers ago) is where he should ultimately want to be, even if it means spending two years in Newark while the arena in the borough formerly known as Kings County is constructed.

They'll tout the promise of playing alongside Brook Lopez, who ranks right up there with Andrew Bogut as the Eastern Conference's best center not named Dwight Howard.

They'll mention the speed of Devin Harris, the upside of Terrence Williams and rookies Derrick Favors and Damion James, the ability of the franchise to add a second high-level free agent (the Nets' greatest need is at power forward, and David Lee and Carlos Boozer could be had with the remaining cap space), and the career winning percentage of Avery Johnson -- the highest in NBA history among coaches with at least 250 games under his belt.

Prokohorov may even repeat a line he used in a meeting with writers in New York last month: "You cannot be a global icon if you play in Miami." The Nets may mention that Spike Lee, the most famous of Knicks fans, is actually a Brooklynite himself. And if Prokhorov is clever, he may even bring along a few gold ingots from one of the mines he owns in the Russian hinterlands (as a gift, mind you, not as a down payment).

It'll be the biggest pitch the franchise has ever thrown, but the Nets already know that they'll walk out of Thursday's meeting without any kind of a commitment. They'll reboard the Russian's private jet, fly back to New Jersey, then spend Friday in New York interviewing other free agents while reviewing and discussing what they learned and saw in Ohio, trying to ascertain whether James was merely being polite or is truly intrigued by the possibility of joining a team that won only 12 games last season.

And then they'll wait some more, just as the Knicks and at least four other teams will do, and refine Plans B, C and D, while James holds the league hostage until announcing the decision on his future.

The Knicks are up second, and the five-man traveling contingent of Dolan, D'Antoni, Donnie Walsh, Allan Houston and MSG president Scott O'Neil has a much more solid foundation to sell -- at least when it comes to the building they want James to call his new home.

It is alternately referred to as "The World's Most Famous Arena" and the "Mecca of Basketball," the latter term derived from the old Madison Square Garden's nickname as both the mecca of college basketball and the mecca of boxing.

They'll sell the glamour and glitz of Manhattan, the benefits of playing in the same borough where the movers and shakers of the global marketing business ply their trade, and the appeal of being a franchise player whose Q-rating would immediately jump into the Derek Jeter range (in places other than Ohio) if he were to choose the Knicks as his next team.

But they'll also sell him on the possibility of turning the Knicks into a championship contender over the next two to three years, something they'll have the financial flexibility to do in the summer of 2011 when Eddy Curry's $11.3 million salary comes off the books and they'll have the means to go after another marquee player. (Carmelo Anthony would be their alpha target, and Tony Parker would be within their grasp if they have $10-12 million in salary cap space to play with.)

That flexibility for the summer of 2011 is something the Heat, Bulls and Clippers will not have in their repertoires when they make their sales pitches, and New York will also make the argument that its supporting cast is both larger in number and better suited to surround James, in terms of positional talent, than Chicago's or Miami's.

Example: You want a shooter to kick out to on the wing? Danilo Gallinari is one of the best in the league, and he's only 21. Rookie Andy Rautins can stroke it, too. The Bulls just traded their best 3-point shooter, Kirk Hinrich, and the Heat are ridding and have rid themselves of Daequan Cook and James Jones, the two players on that depleted roster not named Wade who can hit from downtown.

They'll make the point that Jim Dolan is not afraid to spend exorbitant amounts of money, and they can bring along Cablevision's luxury-tax receipts from the past decade if they want to bolster that argument with physical evidence. And in some subtle way, they'll make the point that historically frugal Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf will have to dig deep into his wallet in each of the next two summers to lock up Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.

The Knicks also will have one other advantage no other team possesses (unless the Heat can find someone to take Michael Beasley off their hands). Because they have hoarded more salary-cap room than any of the teams that have cleared room, they can let James decide who his preferred max-salary running mate would be.

If, as many expect, James says he wants to play with Chris Bosh, the Knicks will tell him they can probably get that done -- but time will be of the essence. That's because the Raptors are amenable to doing a sign-and-trade deal with New York in which they'd get David Lee in return (the Knicks might even be able to include Al Harrington and/or Eddie House in that trade, as New York holds the Bird rights to those players). Lee, however, has his own agenda and timetable. And he could be forced to make a snap decision if some team puts a take-it-now-or-it's-gone offer on the table during the first 24 or 48 hours of free agency.

If James tells them he wants to play with Dwyane Wade, the Knicks could try to make that happen, too, by bringing it up with Wade on Friday when they meet with him in Manhattan. The same goes for Amare Stoudemire, who is on a Knicks visitation list that begins with a 9:01 p.m. ET meeting with Joe Johnson in Los Angeles.

In the cases of both the Nets and the Knicks, the focus of their pitches will be on the future, not the recent past.

And since James is 25 and looking ahead, not back, both teams are banking on the idea that they can make a plausible case that the future will be brighter in Brooklyn or Manhattan than it will be anywhere else.


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