Saturday, November 22, 2008

LeBron or Bust

The Knicks are trying to be relevant again in the town known for being the Mecca of Basketball.

It'll just take a couple of years.

In a society and a city that depends on instant gratification, Friday's trades of Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph are no doubt seen as putting all their eggs in the basket of the future, while fans will no doubt have to endure two more seasons of certain frustration from a team that has given them a decade's worth.

But for those waiting for the 2010 free agent class to actually be free see Friday's events as the necessary cleansing of years worth of bad financial decisions, which started with the trading of Patrick Ewing to Seattle for bad contracts, which turned into more bad contracts, which turned into more bad contracts, which turned into a payroll roughly the amount of the national debt.

People will no doubt wonder why it was necessary to sacrifice the '08-'09 season for the sake of '10-'11, while taking on another team's "situation" (Al Harrington) in the process. After all, this team started 6-2, and had the Mavericks on the ropes in a game they probably should have won. And under their new run 'n gun approach implemented by Mike D'Antoni, the Knicks have at least showed a capability of taking care of lower rung teams like Charlotte and Oklahoma City (although they did let a 30 point lead fritter down to 10, tsk tsk), which probably puts them in a position to battle for the 8th seed for the right to get their heads handed to them by the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.

That said, the Knicks of Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph, even under D'Antoni, weren't getting anywhere. The sooner you're honest about that, the better. When the chance arises to trade a first round beating this season for being in contention for the whole freakin' kit and kaboodle in two seasons, you take it. Every time.

Let's not forget that this is the Knicks we're talking about, so there's some inherent risk here. First off, of the big names available in 2010 in addition to James, you have Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Amare Stoudamire. Though I personally don't see any of those three coming to New York, money does talk. And you never know what kinds of challenges drives these athletes, and you also never know what kind of moves can precede a big fish. Would Kevin Garnett had been comfortable with a trade to the Celtics without their previous acquisition of Ray Allen? The answer is no, and look what happened to the Celtics last season (and this, with a 12-2 record and steamrolling towards another division title even at this early stage.) Don't think the Knicks ignored the basketball renaissance in Boston last season where superstars provide instant credibility.

But with Wade and Stoudamire most likely staying where they are, and Bosh being a Texas native who may look at the three Lone Star franchises before New York, it would seem to be "LeBron or Bust" for Donnie Walsh.

The Knicks hope that LeBron James noticed the happenings in New York today, and they hope he sees it as the ultimate sign of respect, admiration, and the ultimate floral bouquet sitting at his doorstep. "LeBron, we're clearing the way for you. Love, New York City." But so much can happen in two seasons. Not the least of which is this: What if LeBron James wins a championship in his home city this season or next? How possible would it be for him to leave then? LeBron did take the Celtics to Game 7 before finally falling. What if they get over that hump in '09 or '10, for a team that can give him a max contract? And did I mention ... at home?

It's not impossible, with the Cavaliers at 9-3 and Mo Williams now manning the point for Cleveland instead of Daniel Gibson. This is a team that has a punchers chance at returning to the Finals. Unless the Knicks get another superstar or two to commit to complementing James (instead of being the star of their own team), can a potential situation in New York be better for his legacy than what would be presented him in Cleveland?

The Knicks do have D'Antoni going for them ... not only is he one of the best offensive coaches going which may be attractive to James, but their experience together at the Beijing Olympics could give the Knicks an advantage when that fateful day finally comes. But there is too much time between now and then to guarantee that these deals are going to pay off with the bounty of LeBron. But it's worth the gamble.

In any event, this trade may have the unintended effect of making it easier to buy out Stephon Marbury. By offering him the chance to play this season, Marbury no longer has the luxury of refusing a buyout to do the same thing he would be doing while employed: and that's not play. Now, Stephon has the choice to either play or take a lump sum buyout and go somewhere else. By choosing not to play against the Bucks Friday night, he loses all leverage he once had ... and its increasingly clear that the end of his fruitless Knick career is coming sooner rather than later. And that makes this trade gamble already worth while.

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