The crowd at ‘The Garden’ greeted number 23 with an ovation worthy of a King. Jay-Z, Beyonce, Spike Lee and other celebrities in the audience gave the night a big-game feel and Madison Square Garden sure like heck has not looked or sounded this good in years.
King James left the Garden Tuesday night with a message for Knicks fans, “You have to stay open-minded,” he said, referring to July 1, 2010 when he becomes a free agent.
As if there’s a single Knick fan out there who would oppose him coming to New York in 20 months. Heck no, we want LeBron in NYC! We can’t wait for his homecoming!
But that’s not the issue. It’s all about whether James wants to come to New York to play for a Knick team that right now doesn’t even exist. There’s no starting five. No bench. There’s just a team president with a game plan and all kinds of cap space to see it become reality, along with a coach who James calls “an offensive mastermind.”
That’s not a lot to sell, but that can change in an instant. It’s not as if James would want to join the current Knicks team, anyway. The Knicks were pathetic Tuesday night as they worked in two new players – Tim Thomas and Al Harrington – against one of the East’s top teams.
Mike D’Antoni wasted his time and money getting a technical near halftime. “When you get beat by 30,” he said later, “it’s OK.”
Actually, the final margin was 18, 119-101, but it did seem like a 30-point loss. With James scoring effortlessly and the Knicks a study in chaos, this was one was over after about 13 minutes. There must have been a time in the fourth quarter, when James did not play, when he must have wondered what he’ll be coming to in 2010 if he leaves Cleveland.
Beyond James, Knicks president Donnie Walsh’s strategy can be summed up in two words: Think big. Big as in a quality big man who can help get the Knicks back to title contention.
While James flirted with Knicks fans, Walsh won’t even concede that James will be free in two years, let alone be the top player on his board.
“It’s two years from now and guys are playing on other teams,” he said. “A lot of things can happen between now and then.”
But one thing almost certainly won’t change. Walsh will try his best to find a big man to pair with James.
He doesn’t have to be the second coming of Patrick Ewing but he can’t be a stiff. As Walsh explained, “I’ve always thought that you had to have a really good big man to have a great team.”
The NBA has become more and more of a wing player’s league, with James and Kobe and Paul and all the rest. But you still need a dominant big man to win. Just as the Celtics had last June with Kevin Garnett, and as the vast majority of champions almost always have.
“I think you have to have a big guy who can do the real important things,” Walsh said the other day. “Scoring, maybe. To me, it’s more about rebounding and blocking shots and providing the intimidation inside. You need those things to contend.”
The beauty of the deals Walsh made last week is that he’ll have plenty of money for James and a big man.
“It’s a huge advantage when you’ve got a great big man,” Walsh said. “When you have a guy like that, you can really succeed.”
The success will come when James signs a long-term deal at the Garden.
If you need to keep an open mind for that event, you officially need help. 🙂