2010 Offseason Proves Crucial for Knicks

It is no big secret that the summer of 2010 has the potential to be one of the liveliest and most memorable offseasons in NBA history. For at least the past year, every roster move and basketball decision made by leagues’ front offices has been done with the 2010 free-agent class in mind-a class that includes studs from one of the best draft classes in NBA history (James, Wade, Bosh), as well as a plethora of perennial All-Stars (Stoudemire, Nash, Yao, Pierce, and Nowitzki to name a few). But just last week the league office revealed that they had taken out a $200 million loan to help struggling franchises cover operational losses, indicating that professional sports are far from immune to the recent economic downturn. It now looks like the summer of 2010 will have even greater implications for the league’s future, as personnel decisions will play a vital role in drawing fans to arenas and maintaining national interest. And although Kobe, Iverson, and Shaq remain household names throughout America, the time has come to pass the torch to the next generation. It has become increasingly apparent that the league’s future hinges on the decision of its biggest and brightest star, LeBron James.

Although the 2010 offseason remains more than sixteen months away, there has been plenty of speculation about James’ future. LeBron has been overtly ambivalent about his decision, angering many Cleveland fans when he revealed a special edition of his signature Nike sneaker called the “Big Apple,” and causing Charles Barkley to declare, “If I was LeBron James, I would shut the hell up.” Such indignation is understandable, as many of these fans desire nothing less than for LeBron to build on his already illustrious career in his home state of Ohio. While initially my gut instinct as an NBA fan caused me to empathize with Cleveland fans-yearning for LeBron to fulfill his destiny as the second coming of Jordan, miraculously and single-handedly lifting a bungling franchise from obscurity to preeminence-today I cannot help but be enticed by the dazzling possibilities that a move to New York would enable. Perhaps my perspective is tainted by my inherent bias for the NY metropolitan area sports, but few can deny the unparalleled potential for fame, growth, and fortune unique to the city that never sleeps.

And amazingly for Knick fans, the Madison Square Garden brass finally seems to have gotten its act together at the perfect time. In the past, beleaguered MSG chairman Jim Dolan consistently committed the mistake of believing that a few cheap fixes were all that was needed to return the Knicks to prominence, electing to trade for high-priced veterans or coaches (e.g. Larry Brown, Isiah Thomas, Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis, and Jerome James), rather than rebuilding through traditional methods such as the draft. As Knicks fans are very familiar with, the result was one of the league’s worst records to go along with the league’s highest payroll. But beginning last year, with the hiring of team president of basketball operations Donnie Walsh, the Knicks have played all of their cards right in setting themselves up for the 2010 LeBron sweepstakes.

Walsh, a native New Yorker, immediately began the unenviable task of rebuilding the Knicks by hiring Mike D’Antoni away from the Suns in the off-season. For years, it seemed the only thing the Knicks stockpiled were fat contracts and overrated players, but fans are now finally excited about the opportunity to root for blue-collar homegrown talent such as Nate Robinson, David Lee, and Wilson Chandler. By dealing away or buying out many of their selfish players with character issues, the Knicks have cleared enough cap space to sign James and potentially another perennial All-Star like Chris Bosh in 2010.

And not to be overlooked are the tremendous benefits of playing under Mike D’Antoni, especially for a player as freakishly versatile as James. Bill Simmons first pointed out that playing in D’Antoni’s system is for a player’s career the equivalent of hitting the lottery, his prolific run-and-gun offense multiplying the statistics of nearly all of its players. Take for instance Chris Duhon, who has more than doubled the 5.8 points, and 4.0 assists he averaged for the Bulls in 2007-2008 to 12.2 points and 8.0 assists this season. It is downright scary to imagine the type of numbers LeBron could put up in this scheme, although a nightly triple-double-perhaps 35 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 assists-is hardly out of the question.

So it seems like all of the evidence points to the conclusion that LeBron and New York would be a perfect fit for one another in 2010. Perhaps the best indication is the fact that I have yet to meet one New York basketball fan who would be able to resist the temptation to pay for a number “23” Knicks jersey with “James” emblazoned across the back. The money is there, the passion for the game is there, and the talent will unquestionably follow suit as soon as LeBron signs up. Indeed, rather than simply adhering to the script penned by Michael Jordan, it is time for LeBron to author his own chapter in the storybook of NBA history-perhaps the most important chapter yet.