Heat, Bulls to meet with David Lee first, but Nets visit could be interesting

David Lee lined up four visits in the hours after midnight, and look who's going first: Chicago and Miami, two of the Knicks' biggest competitors in the pursuit of LeBron James.

Lee also plans to travel to Minnesota (which has been listening to trade offers for Al Jefferson) on Saturday, then meet next with the New Jersey Nets. More meetings could follow, as agent Mark Bartelstein said eight or nine teams inquired about the only player in the New York locker room (aside from Eddy Curry, who hasn't been seen there for the better part of the past two years) who endured all of the past five brutal seasons, logging 368 games and becoming the team's first All-Star since 2001.

It has been noted here that the timing of Lee's decision could have huge implications on the Knicks' pursuit of Chris Bosh, with a lot riding on whether some team puts an offer on the table for Lee and tells him to either take it now, or it's gone.

For now, we can logically exclude the Bulls and the Heat from making such a move. They, like the Knicks, have bigger fish to fry and will wait on LeBron.

Minnesota burned a sizeable chunk of its $13-14 million in cap space in signing center Nikola Pekovic away from Panathinakos of Greece, and it's doubtful Lee would jump at a starting salary of $10 million if the Wolves gave him a take-it-or leave it offer Saturday. He can get that number, or a higher one, elsewhere.

ESPN colleague Chad Ford notes in his story that Timberwolves general manager David Kahn believes Lee's skills fit the up-tempo offense coach Kurt 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."

The wild card here is the Nets.

They will be the first team to meet with LeBron James this morning in Akron (with the Knicks going second), and they'll likely leave that sitdown with some sort of a reading on whether James would truly be willing to spend two seasons playing in Newark while the Nets' new arena in Brooklyn is built.

And if Mikhail Prokhorov and Jay-Z and Rod Thorn get back on their private jet and decide in-flight that James is not within their reach, they could be the team that forces Lee's hand when they meet with him Sunday.

Remember, the big Russian said in May that he plans to turn Knicks fans into Nets fans (and he's being bold about it).

What better way to get started down that road than by making a hard play for Lee? A take-it-or-leave-it play.

Lee is not only the most popular player among the Knicks' fan base, he was an All-Star last season, and he'd address what Prokhorov himself has identified as the Nets' No. 1 need - a power forward to play alongside Brook Lopez.

And another thing: Lee absolutely loves playing in New York, and if it was up to him he'd re-sign with the Knicks in a fingersnap if given the opportunity at a fair salary. But the Knicks are of the mind that they can live with him or without him, and they know the Toronto Raptors would take him in a sign-and-trade if Bosh decides he wants to play in New York.

But if Lee signs a five-year deal with the Nets, he'd be able to continue playing in the city (albeit in a different borough, and not until 2012) that has been his home for the past five years, a city where he's made a strong connection with the local fans.

In theory, at least, it adds a little drama to that meeting Sunday between Lee and the Nets.