At the stroke of midnight Thursday, the LeBron James
sweepstakes sweep-him-off-his-feet-stakes began in earnest, after years of preparation, months of speculation, and weeks of celebrity recruitment videos. The Nets and Knicks got to make the first pitches to LeBron, with back-to-back meetings in Cleveland, Ohio on Thursday. And Knicks Coach Mike D'Antoni sounded peppy and "cautiously optimistic" afterward, saying, “We tried to put him in a New York state of mind.”
But despite that cautious optimism, there are still four more strong teams that will be pitching LeBron—Miami, Cleveland, Chicago and LA. And despite all the basketball courts in Harlem engraved with his likeness in a Knicks uniform, the Knicks have a decidedly weaker sales pitch than the other squads, much of which is their own fault, as the Times points out: "The difference is that they have managed to position themselves as the most desperate of James supplicants based on who they are, how bad they’ve become, how much they’ve promised and how little they will have to offer their fan base if Plans A and B do not work out."
The Nets' new coach Avery Johnson only said, "The meeting went very well," but according to the Star-Ledger, Nets officials believe their pitch would be hard to follow:
[James] listened attentively to [Nets owner Russian billionaire Mikhail] Prokhorov and [Onexim CEO Dmitry] Razumov as they explained how they will expand his profile on a global scale. He heard [outgoing Nets president] Thorn and Johnson share their plan for building a championship-caliber roster with a long shelf life. He was given an evocative demonstration by [Nets CEO Brett] Yormark about how he could become not only King of Brooklyn, but of all of New York.
And then, according to reporters at the scene, Jay-Z stayed behind to reinforce the Nets’ bullet points and get a feel for how his 25-year-old protégé reacted to the presentation.
It didn’t take long to discern that James was blown away.
According to one Nets official, James also gave them a candid warning that the team should prepare to have enough room under the salary cap to afford two maximum-value contracts should he decide that New Jersey is his next destination.
After meeting with James, the Nets met with Chris Bosh as well as Dwyane Wade in Chicago. The Nets don't have any other meetings planned, but the agent for Knick David Lee wants to set one up: "He’d be tremendous for them. He never had the advantage of playing with another big like Brook Lopez - he stands out naked by himself every night. To play with another big like that would help him tremendously. They’d be a formidable team." And if the Nets don't land James, the News expects a "blockbuster trade."
As its backup plan, the Knicks were closely eyeing Atlanta Hawks swingman Joe Johnson, but he seems likely to re-sign with Atlanta, which offered him an exorbitant 6-year, $119 million contract. The Knicks spoke with Miami Heat all-star Wade, who gave a positive spin on his meeting, although most believe he will resign with Miami with Pat Riley as head coach. Phoenix Suns forward Amare Stoudamire seems likely to leave Arizona, and is possibly the most eligible recruit left in the free agent market, although one agent isn't sure the Knicks have any locks yet: "It looks like they're striking out this summer."