All the talk about King James and the 2010 Free Agent Bidding War has quickly turned into action. This week, the New York Knicks traded away their two highest scorers Zach Randolph and Jamal Crawford and cleared $27 million from their salary. This is an unprecedented power play. Never has a team written off not only this season but the next as well for the chance to sign a player that will not only change the franchise but change the entire league as we know it.
While 15 teams are actively freeing up cash for the Summer of ’10, the Knicks will have the salary room to pay two players maximum salary. And you only have to look at who is available that fateful summer to know that this thing could move mountains: LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Steve Nash, Amare Stoudamire, Shaq, Dirk Nowitzki, Tracey McGrady… I could go on. This is beyond huge.
So there’s the money. A lot of money. But most of these dudes already have a lot of money and the one thing they want more than money is Championships. Plural. As many as possible. LeBron James is a man with full knowledge of his own global cultural potential, a man who takes part-ownership in companies as payment for endorsements, a man that wants to be bigger than basketball itself. But as talented as he may be, there’s only so much you can do if you can’t win championships. Michael Jordan would not be “Michael Jordan” without the fist full of championship rings. With the same numbers, the same dunks, the same Nike ads, the same Everything, Jordan would not be the Best Player Ever if it weren’t for his ability to win. And winning games is not enough. An icon, a legend, a hero has to win championships. There is nothing else.
Franchises can offer LeBron as much as they want but due to the way the league works the Cavaliers will always have the opportunity to have the highest bid. It then becomes what else can a team offer. If financial projections are correct, the Knicks could have the cash to not only go after James but perhaps either Bosh or D-Wade as well. ESPN even suggested the possibility of a James/Bosh/Nash Knicks line-up. Nash will be nearing retirement and looking for a ring or two to put next to his two MVP trophies (only Karl Malone has a lonely MVP trophy with no championship ring) much like Kevin Garnett did last season. And with Mike D’Antoni at the reigns there is no limit to how purely exciting a team like this could be. Imagine.
And there are other things the Knicks have going for them: they are the richest team in the league, their home stadium is the Madison Square Garden, and their home is the most populous city in the USA. In short it is the perfect place to build a business empire. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. Early on there were whispers about the Nets moving to Brooklyn and Jay-Z luring his buddy to his franchise but the stadium is not ready and if James wants to move to a bigger market, suburban New jersey is not the place. In New York, James will be close to his CEO buddies as well as millions of potential fans just waiting for a team that is worth supporting. And that’s the other thing the Knicks have that a lot of other teams don’t; a fan-base (what’s left of it) with expectations so low that another two seasons without much of a team doesn’t seem so bad if there’s some light at the end of the tunnel. They’ve done nothing for eight seasons or so. What’s another two? For a chance for an era defining team, New York would give a lot more than a mere two seasons. And they’re one of the few teams that are not going to go to the poorhouse waiting for results.
However, the contingencies are limitless. The Knicks may be putting too much on one guy and if that guy could simply choose to stay and collect All Star players around him. And it won’t be about hometown pride or any of that rubbish. Everyone is talking about how LeBron is from Ohio so he’ll stick around for the home team. First, he’s from Akron not Cleveland. That’s like expecting someone from Hamilton to have allegiances to Auckland. Not an issue. Second, LeBron even wore a Yankees cap to a Indians game. A playoff game too. Dude does not give a shit. Seriously. Also, the Detroit Pistons, who are already a great team will have some cash to throw around and a winning system already in place, while New York will be essentially starting from scratch.
History is on Cleveland’s side here. It is important to remember that in the last ten years, on average, only one star player a year has switched teams as a result of a team getting under the salary cap. A team is ten times more likely to obtain an all-star through the draft and trades and five time more likely to to land a star via a trade alone. But 2010 is not history. 2010 is a watershed moment for the post-Jordan NBA. As a fan, I would love to see the creation of an awe-inspiring team to run D’Antoni’s explosive offense. I was happy to see the Knicks get off to a decent start this year and was looking forward to how it all developed, but I am more excited about even the possibility of them rising out of a decade of bad debts and declining talents. I hope to live in New York again one day and if LeBron lived there too, playing a couple of home games a week, well, who wouldn’t smile at that?