Print and Go Back ESPN.com: New York Knicks [Print without images]

Sunday, July 4, 2010
A delayed LeBron decision could complicate Knicks' Lee situation

By Chris Sheridan

The latest word on the LeBron situation comes from Brian Wildhorst of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, who has a source telling him James will not announce his decision until the conclusion of his Nike camp in Akron on Wednesday night.

That is going to have implications for David Lee and the Knicks.

Fresh off his Saturday visit to visit the Minnesota Timberwolves -- who do not have the cap space to sign Lee but could get it by trading Al Jefferson, Ramon Sessions and/or Ryan Hollins -- Lee could meet with the New Jersey Nets in the near future. (Lee's agent, Mark Bartelstein, has said there likely will be a meeting, but Nets president Rod Thorn said Sunday nothing has been scheduled.)

Lee has now met with Chicago, Miami and Minnesota, but he has been proceeding forward with the understanding that the Toronto Raptors could be his ultimate destination if Chris Bosh decides to go to New York. The Raptors are amenable to such a deal, and the salaries would not have to match because Toronto would be trading Bosh into open cap space. If they got Lee at an $11 million starting salary, the Raptors would also gain a $5.5 million trade exception, and Bosh would get a sixth year on his deal and 10.5 percent annual raises, increasing the value of his contract by $30 million.

The key to everything is James, of course, and the Knicks have told James he can bring along whichever big man he chooses, be it Amare Stoudemire, Bosh, Lee or Carlos Boozer. And remember, aside from Miami, New York is currently the only team with enough cap space to sign two max free agents outright without having to do a sign-and-trade, and they'd still have at least $1 million left over (the exact amount won't be known until the salary cap is set July 7) to fill out the roster after spending the $33.14 million it'll take to sign two max guys.

(It cannot go unmentioned that another huge factor is whether Dwyane Wade commits to the Bulls -- a real possibility when you factor in his desire to be close to his children if a judge awards shared parental custody in Wade's divorce case).

Another key is Bosh, and who he wants to play with -- James or Wade, as outlined in great detail in this TrueHoop post by colleague Chad Ford.

As Chad notes, the Raptors have little interest in taking on Michael Beasley or Luol Deng in a sign-and-trade with Miami or Chicago. That complicates things for the Bulls if they get a commitment from Wade, since they are about $4 million shy of having enough cap space to sign a second max player, and it complicates things for the Heat if they lose Wade because they'd have difficulty working out a sign-and-trade with the Raptors -- meaning if Bosh wanted to sign in Miami to play alongside James, he might have to take $30 million less than what the Knicks could pay him.

The Knicks are tentatively scheduled to meet Monday with Stoudemire, who reportedly has a $100 million "offer" on the table from the Knicks. My understanding of the situation, through conversations with league sources, is that New York has told Stoudemire it is "willing" to give him a five-year max, but everything is contingent upon what James decides. And if James tells the Knicks he's coming to New York and he wants Bosh to come with him, Stoudemire (who is already recruiting Carmelo Anthony and Tony Parker) will have to seek employment elsewhere -- a contingency he is planning for, Sam Amick of AOL Fanhouse reports, with visits to New Jersey and Chicago slated for Tuesday and Wednesday.

But again, the one key to the Knicks possibly getting Bosh, and Bosh getting his extra $30 million, is the continued free agency of Lee.

As outlined in this recent blog post, and in this earlier post, the timing of Lee's decision is crucial. And if Mikhail Prokhorov and the Nets, or some other team, make Lee an offer he can't refuse while LeBron is stalling, the Knicks could lose a key cog in their overall overhaul strategy.

They would still have the fallback of Stoudemire, who James wanted the Cavs to acquire at the trade deadline last February, and perhaps Joe Johnson, who has still not committed to the Hawks' $119 million, six-year offer, or Mike Miller, who has the Knicks at the top of his wish list, according to Frank Isola of the Daily News.

Again, it all circles back to where James wants to play, and which max player he wants to play alongside. But here's another morsel of food for thought: I spoke to Lee during the past season about his relationship with LeBron, and he described it as quite friendly.

What if James committed to the Knicks and told then he wanted to play alongside Lee?

That, for Knicks fans, might be the best-case scenario of them all.

Assuming Lee would merit a starting salary of $11 million in a six-year deal (which might be an undervaluation in this free-agent market), that would leave the Knicks with roughly $6 million-$7 million in remaining cap space. That's probably enough to get both point guard Luke Ridnour, one of the two best unrestricted free-agent point guards on the market, and center Earl Barron, who played well for the Knicks in the final seven games of the regular season.

This would be their 12-man roster, with one additional spot needing to be filled by a player on a minimum salary (perhaps Patrick Ewing Jr., who is on the Knicks' summer league roster) to reach the league minimum of 13:

• Forwards: James, Lee, Danilo Gallinari, Bill Walker (G/F), Landry Fields.
• Guards: Ridnour, Toney Douglas, Wilson Chandler, Andy Rautins.
• Centers: Eddy Curry, Barron, Jerome Jordan.

On a related note, yesterday's blog post about how I believe the Knicks are still in the LBJ hunt generated quite a few comments, some more eloquent than others. (Memo to those accusing me of being a homer: I am approaching this whole LeBron James story more in the manner that this guy would.)

One comment was posted at 12:11 a.m. this morning from a P.Ewing. It reads:

"Here's how I see it: Let's just assume the Clips and Nets are out of this thing cause ...well... they're the Clips and the Nets. And let's assume the Cavs are the frontrunners for the obvious reasons (he can get the most money, he's loyal to his hometown, they won 60-plus games 2 years in a row, etc.) that leaves the Knicks, Heat, and Bulls as the teams with an outside chance of landing LeBron. Were's what NY has going for it over MIA and CHI: If Amare is on board, he's currently the best big man on any of the 3 rosters. And even if the other teams pick up Bosh, you could still argue that Amare is every bit as dominant (see 2nd half of last season). I don't why people talk about Gallo as if he's just a 3-point guy. But he's definitely more Dirk than Frye. And he's 21, competitive and improving. Noah is OK but he's as good now as he will be in 3 years. As for the pg, Rose is great... and a waste of talent and cap space if teamed up with LeBron. There's a reason LBJ, Kobe, and MJ have never played with a top pg.... they don't need one. The offense will always flow through their hands. Douglas is more than capable of bringing the ball up, hitting the open shot, and playing solid d. Chandler is talented, as is Walker, and should have big years with a dominant player to free them up a bit. Lastly, you can't kill D'Antoni unless you want to kill mgmt for putting them in the running for James."

So I am not alone in my theory, and for those commenters accusing ESPN of having an anti-Knicks bias, I am not the only ESPN guy who believes LeBron will choose New York.

Columnist Ian O'Connor of ESPNNewYork.com agrees, and so does Michaek Kay, 1050 ESPN afternoon radio host and voice of the New York Yankees. A majority of the national guys on the ESPN.com NBA page think he is going to the Bulls, and Marc Stein believes he is staying with the Cavs, as does Windhorst. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion.

But Tom Penn, the former Portland assistant general manager and current ESPN on-camera capologist, believes the Knicks are the team that makes the most sense as James' best landing spot.

"My gut tells me that New York is the place for LeBron. I've felt that since last summer when it became clear he wasn't going to do a contract extension," Penn told me on the phone this morning. "LeBron is a dynamic guy, a guy who wants to do more than just play basketball, and he's so talented and has so many other interests. And in the next decade, he can achieve success in all those areas if he plays in New York. If you want to be king, you want to be in the castle, the Mecca of Basketball."