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LeBron James could be leaving today.
And the New York Knicks want to be part of it in the worst way.
New York City is rolling out the red carpet for the Cleveland Cavaliers forward before his run in the 2010 NBA playoffs is even complete.
From newspaper and magazines covers to a lifetime pass for free lap dances from the legendary strip club Scores, the Big Apple is doing their part to sway the biggest free agent in recent NBA history.
But before James gives up those little town blues in Cleveland and makes a brand new start of it in New York, he should consider the advantages and disadvantages of signing away at least the next three years of his career to the Knicks.
For nearly two years now, the New York Knicks have been preparing for when the clock strikes midnight on July 1 — the first day when the free agent class of 2010 can sign. What slim chance the Knicks had of competing this season in the mediocre Eastern Conference went out the window when general manager Donnie Walsh started clearing salary cap space before the trade deadline. Knicks fans had to suffer through a gimpy Tracy McGrady and his chronic knee injuries during the second half of the season, all in hopes of landing James this upcoming summer.
With just under $18 million on the books for the Knicks heading into next season and the NBA salary cap projected at $56 million, Walsh has the financial flexibility to not only sign James but also another high profile free agent to complement him. A front line of James, Chris Bosh and the talented Danilo Gallinari would be tops in the Eastern Conference.
James would get an upgrade at the head coaching position, leaving behind the defensive oriented Mike Brown for the run-and-gun offense of Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni. In the time it took you to read that last sentence, James would have been able to get off two shots under D’Antoni’s system. If the Knicks were able to average 102 points a game with Chris Duhon running the show, just imagine what New York could do with the ball in James’ hands.
And no offense to the Quicken Loans Arena, but the atmosphere doesn’t come close to the electricity that’s generated when a winning product is on the floor at Madison Square Garden. I know the last time the Knicks showed any signs of life, “Grandmama” was hitting 3-pointers and Spike was heckling Reggie, but I’m pretty sure the smartest basketball fans in the league still remember how to cheer for their team. It’s known as The World’s Most Famous Arena for a reason, as James has shined while under the bright lights at MSG, averaging 30.3 points in 11 career appearances, including two 50-plus point games.
On the flip side, James would be taking less money if he signed with the Knicks or any other team, leaving nearly $30 million on the table in Cleveland.
With less money comes more problems as James would be under immense pressure in New York to win — and win now. Just ask New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who was under constant scrutiny from fans and the media until he led the Bronx Bombers to their first World Series title since 2000. If he were to have a performance similar to his dismal showing against the Boston Celtics, the tabloid newspapers would plaster the back pages with “Prince James” headlines.
While all eyes would be on James, he doesn’t need New York to build his brand. He’s arguably the biggest star already in the NBA and that’s after spending his entire basketball career in the state of Ohio. When James signed his new Nike contract in March, his deal didn’t include any clauses that would pay him more if he signed with the Knicks. He’s going to sell merchandise regardless if he’s wearing orange and blue with the Knicks or red and blue with the Los Angeles Clippers. (Don’t get your hopes up all 47 of you Clipper fans in LA.)
If the Knicks decide to sign James and another free agent to a max contract, he unfortunately might have a backcourt featuring some combination of Sergio Rodriguez, Bill Walker, Toney Douglas and J.R. Giddens. Of those four young guards, Walker has shown the most upside, averaging 11.9 points for the Knicks after he was acquired from the Boston Celtics on Feb. 18.
Lastly, let’s not forget the Knicks have been dismal for nearly a decade. Despite making the NBA playoffs in 2003-04, the Knicks haven’t had a winning season since 2000-01 when James was a high school sophomore at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. James Dolan hasn’t exactly been a model owner during that stretch. All you need to know about the executive chairman of Madison Square Garden is he didn’t fire Isiah Thomas as president of basketball operations after he was found guilty of sexually harassing Anucha Brown Sanders in 2007.
If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.
It’s up to you, LeBron.