Knicks target Joe Johnson out of the gate

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Sure, the Knicks want LeBron James. And they’ll make their pitch. But they’ll need more than the King to contend, and will need other players on roster to lure James anyway. And there’s always, you know, the simple fact that they should probably look into some backup plans in case their best pitch isn’t good enough for James to swing at.

Target acquired: Hawks shooting guard Joe Johnson.

ESPN reports that Knicks GM Donnie Walsh and head coach Mike D’Antoni will fly to the west coast on Wednesday in anticipation of the Thursday midnight EST start of free agency. They’ll meet with Joe Johnson at 9PM Pacific time, then hop on a flight and catch up with Amar’e Stoudemire in Phoenix.

So, yeah. Two players who excelled under Mike D’Antoni in Phoenix will be the first two visited by the master of “Seven Seconds or Less” within the first three hours of the free agency period. Later in the day, they’ll meet with LeBron James.

If we’re examining realistic possibilities, the Knicks have an outside shot at James. Their roster isn’t in a place to contend, and other bidders will have that luxury. But Johnson and Amar’e present an interesting alternative. Both would likely be impressed with being stars of a New York team. Both have played together under D’Antoni in the past. Both can get buckets in efficient ways (though Johnson’s efficiency has begun to plummet).

Is Johnson worth the max contract? No, not at his age. Is this a championship contending core? Probably not. But it is a monumental step forward for a franchise that literally only recently finished up digging itself out of the hole Isiah Thomas put them in.

While D’Antoni’s system would be greatly improved with a dynamic point guard like Steve Nash, Johnson and Amar’e could run the pick and roll with devastating results. Johnson would need to adjust to being more of a facilitator, but hey, D’Antoni has been known to get through to players.

Johnson and Amar’e aren’t the biggest fish out there. But they’re still good catches, and if things were to fall just right, one or the other could help land LeBron.