The team that plays in the World’s Most Famous Arena in the Greatest City on Earth is not exactly having a blockbuster start to free agency. They had their meeting with LeBron in Cleveland, a location they obviously would have preferred to avoid. Showing James the glitz and glitter of New York would have been much more advantageous for Donnie Walsh and company, but alas, they did not get homecourt advantage.
Worse yet, they were upstaged by the Nets. The New Jersey (Brooklyn) Nets. Jay-Z, a trusted mentor, stuck around to chat with LeBron after their meeting. Reports say James came away very impressed (I know, I know, reports have said everything including James is actually a cockatoo). Conversely, Brian Windhorst reports that he wasn’t blown away by the Knicks, and multiple reports indicate the Knicks are now pursuing Amar’e hard to try and lure LeBron. Their big pitch yesterday centered around how New York could make him a billionaire if things which are unlikely go just right, and that Mike D’Antoni’s system is the answer.
I’m a huge fan of Seven Seconds or Less and even I know pitching offense-all-the-time to a guy looking for championship rings who has been ousted by top defensive squads every season for the past five years is a bad idea.
The most damning thing about the way the first 36 hours of free agency have gone for the Knicks is that the big pitch, the ultimate trump card, the grand reveal has not worked. The key to LeBron James wasn’t supposed to be that complicated. That’s why with the Nets offering a clothing line from Jay-Z and Russian business connections from Mikhail Prokhorov, with Pat Riley slinging the words “it takes three to win” as his core component, and with Cleveland bombarding James with words and images of what he would emotionally do his home area, the Knicks’ whole concept was pretty simple.
“New York rules.”
That was the whole idea. To be fair, they had little other choice. The Knicks were so decimated by Isiah Thomas’ screwed-up reign at the helm that they just recently had the last draft pick he swapped out used by the Jazz. And in order to get rid of all the contracts he picked up they had to swap with Houston for the next eleventy billion years. And they cleared all their cap space specifically to sign multiple top free agents. But the problem is, what’s left?
D’Antoni is selling a system which didn’t win him a championship. That’s fine, the triangle at one point was unproven and sketchy. Eventually, D’Antoni may reach the promised land with the run-and-gun. And he can win games, that’s always been true. The issue is that you have to bring the whole house, the kitchen sink, and your gold tooth to James. That’s what the Nets did, laying out a comprehensive marketing plan built around people he knows and respects. You have to convince him you are 100% dedicated to building a dynasty with him and you know how. The Heat are doing that today with a pitch that says “You can be the icon of the greatest combination of talent in the modern era.” The Knicks?
They had to say “Our city is really big, and really rich, and really awesome.” That was the pull. And it’s a relevant point! They weren’t wrong to go with that approach. But it says a lot about where the Knicks are and where they think they are for that to be their approach. They pushed on their best issues: D’Antoni and New York. But even that’s been compromised by the Nets’ Brooklyn relocation looming.
Again, the Knicks didn’t do anything wrong here. They relied on the things that best speak to them. And there’s still a great chance for them to come out winners here, if they can swoop in and get Amar’e now that the Suns have elected to let him walk (signing Hakim Warrick was a pretty big goodbye card) before the Rockets come dashing in with a sign-and-trade. They could still get LeBron.
But it does say something about this market, about the times we live in. Simply pitching the greatest city in the world isn’t enough. You have to have the best talent, be willing to spend the most, have a great city, great management, great coaching, and pitch all those things the right way.
Come to think of it, makes that yellow and purple tint to the championship rings make more sense, doesn’t it?