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Pooh-pooh the New Jersey Nets' chances in the LeBron James sweepstakes if you want.
Some NBA moles, however, think the Nets right now have a better shot than the New York Knicks at landing James, the superstar free agent, this summer.
LeBron might be coming to New York next season. But it would more likely be via Newark for two years before finally calling Brooklyn home.
By the way, Brooklyn is in New York.
Most can't imagine James would take such a path, especially since the Brooklyn equation is a work in progress. After all, MSG, the mecca of basketball, is just waiting for the King's arrival.
|LeBron James and Brook Lopez in the same frontcourt? That's powerful stuff.|
But as recently as four years ago, when James signed a three-year contract extension instead of the longer seven-year deal Carmelo Anthony signed with Denver, there was this Nets talk out there in NBA circles.
Most of it was centered on James' close friendship with rap mogul Jay-Z, who is a minority owner of the Nets.
The other fascinating part was the Nets' move to Brooklyn. This wasn't a fairy tale -- trying to get one of the best players in the league to come to Exit 16W off the Jersey Turnpike and play in the middle of nowhere in the shadow of the greatest city in the world.
That wasn't going to happen.
This was a bold, new, fresh idea. Brooklyn, at one time, was home to one of the most beloved franchises in this country's history. People adored the Brooklyn Dodgers. One of, if not the most important athletes in this country wore Brooklyn across his chest. Enter Jackie Robinson.
James would have a chance to blaze his own trail, be a part of the rebirth of a franchise on the New York stage, in a new venue that would be an NBA showplace in downtown Brooklyn.
And if LeBron is playing there, the hottest ticket in town wouldn't be at the World's Most Famous Arena.
The Nets would also provide the lifestyle James, just 25, is looking for. In the big picture, it does matter. Having a mansion outside Cleveland is nice, but when you are a mover and shaker, you want to move and shake with people on your level. There just aren't any of those people in Cleveland.
After the Yankees' World Series parade, the Cavs played the Knicks at The Garden. And anybody who saw the pictures or the video of James before that game will remember how thrilled he was with "his pack" courtside to watch him play. Jay-Z was there, of course. A-Rod and CC Sabathia were there as well.
That's what LeBron wants. For sure, Sabathia, who pitched in Cleveland, clued him in on the difference on being a superstar athlete in NYC compared to Ohio.
What about basketball?
James, of course, wants to win a championship as well. His potential move isn't just about a social life. Many would think the Nets have no shot because they won just 12 games last season. First, it wasn't a 12-win team. No. 2, the Nets have a lot of pieces that could turn the team around quickly if James were added.
The Nets have the second-most salary cap space, behind the Knicks. New Jersey, too, can sign not just James, but another star free agent as well. Imagine if the Nets can persuade James and Chris Bosh to join forces.
Then, with a little luck, they could get Kentucky star John Wall in the lottery. Add to that what they already have, a real center in Brook Lopez. They can either keep Devin Harris or trade him for a very good player, a different piece to build the team.
It's not that far-fetched. That team would be in the mix in the Eastern Conference right away and have a shot at a title in a few years.
In years gone by, the idea that an athlete would pass up the Knicks for the Nets would have been laughable.
But which franchise has been to the NBA Finals twice in the past decade? It's the Nets. And which franchise has been a laughingstock that past decade? It's the Knicks.
If nothing else, Nets president Rod Thorn can show LeBron that he knows how to build a championship-caliber team. Granted, the Nets didn't win a title, but they had two chances to. That's more than the Knicks can say.
That's why the Nets are truly in the hunt for the summer's biggest prize.
Rob Parker is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com.
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