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And Down the Stretch They Come

07_07_lebron

After landing Amar’e Stoudemire, the Knicks offseason won’t be labeled a complete failure. But they have to figure out how to land LeBron James in order to make it a home run. The world knows this decision is going to be made Thursday night at 9:00 PM, and inexplicably the popular sentiment now seems to be swinging back towards the Knicks.

Nearly all reports out there said the Knicks were sitting squarely behind the Cavs, Bulls, Heat and Nets on LeBron’s wish list. Apparently, things have changed. There’s always a chance that people have been making things up since the beginning, and no one ever knew anything. That makes this late shift to NY more believable. Or, LeBron’s camp could be purposely introducing New York into the mix to give the hour special on Thursday night more hype. Honestly, there might only be three people that know what LeBron is going to do: LeBron , Maverick Carter and Leon Rose.

Things are becoming clearer as the rest of the free agency plays out. With Wade and Bosh a package deal to Miami, it makes things a lot clearer. So here are the options for LeBron James as we head into D-Day, and how he gets to NY:

Cleveland

The Cavs are still the favorite, and I find it hard to believe that he’ll leave blow off his hometown on national TV. In fact, this could be his way of putting Akron and Cleveland on the map by choosing them over all these bigger markets on national TV.

Now that Chris Bosh has declined to be traded to Cleveland, if LeBron stays it won’t be for basketball reasons. He would have a better opportunity of winning long term in a number of different places that have another star he can play with. The Cavs roster is static and won’t get better.

Miami

I can’t believe that people really think that Wade, Bosh and LeBron are all going to take less money to play together in one place. Each guy would have to take nearly 2 million less in the first year and then in every subsequent season to make a deal like that work. That’s more than 10 million over the life of the contract. Remember that Bosh has been trying to get a sixth year on his new deal by arranging a sign and trade. Does anyone think he’ll now take less money to make this work?

There’s also the ego factor. Doesn’t LeBron lose something if he wins a title with two guys like Wade and Bosh? LeBron won’t even be the number one star in Miami, Wade will. If LeBron is going to win a title, and go to a new city, he’s going to want to be the number one guy. Thinking all three guys will be willing to sacrifice not only money, but their ego is unrealistic.

Bulls

With Bosh and Wade off the table, Chicago is all of a sudden a lot less attractive. Their best case scenario is offering LeBron a starting five of Rose, Deng, Noah, and a newly signed David Lee or Carlos Boozer. The argument can be made that is a more attractive starting five than Stoudemire, Gallinari, Chandler, Douglas and LeBron. There are still basketball reasons for him to head to Chicago, but I think he has real questions as to whether Jerry Reinsdorf can be an owner that can help him win a championship. Chicago is still in the mix, but no longer a favorite.

Nets

Like the Bulls, all the Nets can offer LeBron along with their current roster is Boozer or Lee. Are one of those two PF’s along with Devin Harris, Brook Lopez and Derrick Favors enough to draw him in? Basketball wise, I don’t think it is enough. The fact the Nets are stuck in Newark for another couple years is also a red flag.

People talk about Prokhorov a lot, but the truth is that LeBron has a man-crush on Jay-Z. He’s a 25-year-old kid that likes hanging out with one of the preeminent hip hop stars of this era. Remember that LeBron is nothing more than a kid at 25, and he might very well be obsessed with hanging out with Jay-Z. As ridiculous as that may sound, it might be the tipping point.

Knicks

We know what New York has to offer marketing wise and how it can take LeBron to a whole new level in terms of moneymaking and fame. But how about basketball wise

The Knicks can now guarantee LeBron that he can play with an All-Star PF in Stoudemire, a potential future All-Star in Danilo Gallinari, and another young building block in Wilson Chandler. Their largest selling point, however, is the unknown. They still have Eddy Curry’s expiring contract that can turn into another significant piece.

The Knicks also have an owner in James Dolan that will spend above and beyond the luxury tax to make them a championship team in future years. Mike D’Antoni is the most proven coach on any of the potential teams he could go to. We know LeBron wants to play for him. The Knicks bottom line is this: Stoudemire is the best player that LeBron can play with among the teams with room to pay him a maximum contract. The thought of Bosh and Wade vs. James and Stoudemire for the next five years sounds realistic.

This is where I rate each team and where they stand in the LeBron sweepstakes:

1. Cleveland (50%) – Home – the ultimate draw.

2. Knicks (20%) – The city, the coach, Stoudemire, and all the glitz.

3. Bulls (15%) – Derrick Rose, a decent roster, and Lee or Boozer.

4. Nets (10%) – How much does LeBron want to hang with Jay-Z?

5. Heat (5%) – Would take an unrealistic ego and cash hit to make this happen. Not buying it.

Don’t get too excited Knicks fans because I don’t think Thursday night is going to be one you’ll remember with fondness. It will be a night that you will have your hearts ripped out one more time, this time by a superstar who teased you with dreams of greatness who never had any intention of leaving home. It’s something you will never forget, another scar that won’t go away. It’s just another day of being a fan of the New York Knicks.

Schmeelk Snippets

- A couple other notes on LeBron:

1. One thing he has assured himself of. The fans of whatever teams he snubs will hate him   forever. He is playing with the heartstrings of everyone with this special. He used to be cheered at MSG. If he blows off the Knicks now, he’ll be booed horribly at the Garden next year. It will be nearly as bad in Chicago, and he might not even be allowed back in Cleveland.

2. The decision to go on national TV is bizarre to me. LeBron tried to make this process LESS of a spectacle by making people see him in Ohio. This decision is the opposite. I don’t get it.

-     A couple other notes on Stoudemire:

1. Got to love how he is confident enough to take on New York City in the role of savior of the Knicks. A lot of guys would run from this but he seems to have the confidence and swagger to take it on. That’s the type of guy you need in the current situation, someone that wants the pressure and the attention.

2.   Many people are also talking about how Stoudemire will be affected by not playing with Steve Nash. I’m not sure his raw numbers will drop too much, but his efficiency will. Nash got him so many easy dunks and lay-ups, making his shooting percentage skyrocket. Expect him to drop closer to 50% shooting this season, but still average around 23 a game.

-         Chris Duhon got paid by Orlando: 4 years and 15 million. Didn’t Orlando notice that he couldn’t even get on the court the last few months of the season for the Knicks last year? It’s just another bad contract in an offseason full of them.

-     My prediction on how the Knicks round out their roster if LeBron doesn’t come: Mike Miller, Luke Ridnour, and Fabricio Oberto.

Follow me on twitter as I track NBA free agency at: http://twitter.com/Schmeelk. I’ll also tweet live during the hour long special on Thursday.