Don’t look now, but the Knicks biggest competition in the Lebron James sweepstakes isn’t the Chicago Bulls. It isn’t the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s not even the Miami Heat. No, the team that stands most firmly between The King and MSG is a team that hasn’t been anyone’s biggest competition in quite a while, unless you’re the 1972 Philadelphia 76ers. That’s right; it’s the New Jersey Nets.
The last three days has hardly been a calm before the storm of free agency. That storm unleashes its wild winds in less then 24 hours, taking the pre-July 2010 NBA a tearing it to shreds. In a related story, a rumor per hour quota was apparently enacted without anyone’s knowledge. Yet, everyone has complied.
The latest comes from column favorite Marc Berman’s article in yesterday’s New York Post. A source close to James (aren’t they all?) is quoted as saying that if it wasn’t for the Nets playing the next two years in Newark, Lebron would probably be putting on his best Dr. J shoes and head over to play for the Knicks geographical rival. The individual goes on to say that, even with that whole Newark thing, the Nets have risen above the Knicks on the LBJ depth chart.
If this is true, then the Knicks are in some deep trouble. There are so many factors make the Nets attractive that a wild and crazy presentation from Mikhail Prokhorov and company and a written (yes, written) promise that the “Newark years” would not exceed two could be enough to sign James up.
Its clear Lebron doesn’t mind playing in a less-then-stellar market. At the risk of sounding like Joakim Noah (readers, you know how I do), I’m not buying that Cleveland is a great market to play in. It’s certainly not at the level that Miami, Chicago, or New York is. Not even close. Clearly, if he’s willing to go back to Cleveland, he’ll go to a place that is less then an hour from New York and will, in two years, make the cross river jump.
Regardless, market doesn’t matter anymore in the NBA. Nor should it. The fact is, although Knick fans have hung on this for years, the pizzazz of playing in the big city is not enough of an advantage to cancel out the possibility of New Jersey stealing LBJ. The Knicks should be selling the franchise’s history and the meaning of success in a Knicks uniform. If they base tomorrow’s presentation on the market, they will fail.
The Nets are exciting. No one can deny that. Prokhorov appears like a guy who cares about winning and nothing else. He hasn’t been in the league long enough to become jaded or money hungry. The Nets are his new toy and it’s obvious that he wants to have the shiniest one on the block. This is a man who has misplaced an entire yacht and jokes about it on 60 Minutes. You mean to tell me he cares about anything other then wins? Please. Lebron will love this, and who wouldn’t?
Prokhorov’s excitement about his team is infectious. Even non – Net fans/observers/writers can see that. How does that not come through when he speaks and, in turn, wow any potential free agents? I don’t see how this young Russian billionaire isn’t playing the part of the villainous master-mind in “Donnie and Mike D’s excellent adventure.” (A call back to previous columns, my nickname for Donnie Walsh and Mike D’Antoni’s free agency search)
As crazy as it sounds, the pieces are in place for a team coming of a disaster of a season to rebound quickly. The new coach is young, likable, strong – willed (something Mike Brown did not appear to be), and knows how to win. Avery Johnson has been to an NBA Finals as a player and a coach and may have coached an NBA champ if not for some, um, “questionable officiating” during the 2006 Mavs/Heat finals. He has a vision that matches his owner’s. This could be very dangerous.
The talent on the floor is shockingly salvageable for a team that won 12 games last season. Brook Lopez is a good young presence down low. Devin Harris (yes, still on the team after all those rumors) is two years removed from a fantastic season and could thrive with two max free agents around him. Derek Favors may not be John Wall or Evan Turner, but was still considered the best big man in the draft. The verdict on him is still nothing but speculation, but a top five pick is a top five pick at this point.
That last part should be particularly concerning to the Knicks. The same source quoted in Berman’s Post piece intimates that the Knicks hurt themselves with the drafting of Andy Routins and Landry Fields last Thursday. I still don’t see how the selection of two guys who aren’t going to be huge pieces to a Lebron and (max guy #2) Knick team would greatly influence The King’s choice, but if it does, the edge clearly goes to New Jersey.
While it may seam unfair to compare a third pick overall and two second rounder’s, is it possible Lebron disagreed with the selections based on who was still available? Would he have preferred the Knicks select a player like Lance Stephenson or Gani Lawall? Perhaps. I didn’t think James was the new Chad Ford, but maybe he was looking at Thursday with a more watchful eye then anyone thought.
All of this is good news for the Nets and potentially disastrous news for the Knicks. Mikhail and Co. has quite a package to offer, and not to mention, Lebron’s buddy Jay-Z is on the ownership board. I know that if I am ever faced with a choice and I have a close friend on one side of that choice, I tend to go with the friend.
None of this is anything the Knicks want to hear.
About the Author
Written by Jordan Lauterbach
Jordan Lauterbach began his career in sports media when he was just 15 years old at WKWZ - Syosset. He hosted a sports talk show for nearly four years before moving on to WCWP - Brookville in 2006. Lauterbach currently hosts a sports talk show every Wednesday night from 9pm - midnight (eastern) and a College Football talk show on Saturday mornings from 11am - 12:30 (eastern) (can be heard online at wcwpsports.com and on Long Island on 88.1fm). Follow me on twiiter: jlauterbach1