Once the New York Knicks had declared themselves for the Summer of LeBron, a sudden and stunning unloading of contracts to clear salary-cap space, a Cleveland Cavaliers executive grumbled to his peers in the front office on Friday: “Who is he going to play with there?”
For all the fear and loathing over losing LeBron, the Cavs have never been so scared of the Knicks. Yes, general manager Danny Ferry is mortified over James leaving in 2010. He doesn’t run around like his owner, Dan Gilbert, and tell people the speculation is the product of bored sportswriters. Ferry knows all the angles on James’ possible push out of town, and lives to narrow them.
They’re terrified that they’ll lose LeBron, and that he’ll do to them what losing Shaquille O’Neal did to pro basketball in Orlando.
All things considered, the Cavs don’t doubt that James will walk out the door.
They’ve just not thought that it would be for the Knicks.
“They think New York is a joke,” one NBA GM said Friday.
The Cavs understand that bright lights and big stage of Madison Square Garden and Madison Avenue are formidable for a generational talent that sees himself a lot more like a global brand, than a hometown basketball star. They know something else, too: New York just thrust a lot more pressure on itself to sign James than Cleveland has to keep him.
Once Donnie Walsh traded Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford on Friday – eliminating $27 million in salary for the summer of 2010 – everything changed for the Knicks general manager. The Knicks won’t just have the cap space to sign James, but give him his Scottie Pippen, too. Who is he going to play with? Well, the plan is Toronto’s Chris Bosh. The Knicks can offer two full boats.
So now, the pressure comes like no one’s ever witnessed with the New York Knicks. After all, they don’t raise banners for cap space. They don’t throw parades.
The world expects the Knicks to get James. New York treats it like a birthright. NBA commissioner David Stern didn’t push James Dolan to hire Walsh because the NBA doesn’t want its biggest stars in its biggest markets. Kobe Bryant stayed in Los Angeles. Now, the NBA wants the Knicks to matter again. Only James can make that happen.
There’s no Plan B for the Knicks.
Dwyane Wade won’t do.
This is LeBron or bust.
Walsh has everything to offer James but maybe the most important element: A credible, winning program. James wants to be an immortal. He needs to win championships. Between now and then, Kobe Bryant could be working on his fourth NBA title, maybe his fifth, and James has no time to wait on the construction of a contender.
“When I decide to make the decision, it’s going to basically put me in a position where I feel like I can win multiple championships,” James said.
He’ll need a running buddy to do it, and that’s why the recruitment of Bosh will be so crucial. Nevertheless, the Knicks need to make dramatic changes over the next two years. Mike D’Antoni has done a fabulous job of bringing purpose and passion back to the court, but this Stephon Marbury mess was thrust upon him and it’s reflected lousily on everyone. James has to be watching this circus and saying: How are they serious about winning when they’ll let this clown show go on and on?
D’Antoni offered Marbury a chance to play his first minutes of the season in Milwaukee on Friday night, but his exiled point guard declined. He just told him no. The Knicks are considering banishing Marbury for the insubordination, one league source said. “They would just give him the [Jamaal] Tinsley treatment.” That would be suspending him until they’re able to negotiate his buyout, or the season ends. All in all, D’Antoni was delivered a dysfunctional circumstance that’s left people privately doubting management’s seriousness in chasing a championship culture.
So, the Knicks cleared out salary-cap space, and turned toward 2010 and declared themselves for LeBron James. That’s nice and all, but there are no banners for cap space. Donnie Walsh is on the clock.
Adrian Wojnarowski is the NBA columnist for Yahoo! Sports.
- Donnie Walsh