LeBron James sure does love stringing Knicks fans along. It wouldn’t be a pre-agency year for the all-time scoring champ if he weren’t using the Knicks as leverage. In 2010, the Knicks thought they had him. Donnie Walsh had Mike D’Antoni installed as head coach, the cap room to Carmelo Anthony, the foundation of talent and the pull to drag The Sopranos stars Edie Falco and James Gandolfini into their meeting. After he scheduled The Decision for a Boys & Girls Club in Greenwich, Conn., James stood them up to take his talents to South Beach.
Fourteen years later, the Knicks are on a Conference Finals trajectory for the first time this side of the new millennium. They’ve won 15 of their past 18 games and their fans’ overinflated egos have them pining for King James again. Their loss Saturday to LeBron’s Lakers felt like more of a blessing in disguise and an advertisement for what New York has to offer, than a letdown. They competed without Julius Randle and OG Anunoby, saved Tom Thibodeau from having to report to mandatory duty as coach for the Eastern Conference and allowed James a platform to use them to make the Lakers jealous by wearing a Knicks towel in his on-court postgame interview with ESPN. Some things never change.
It also just so happens that Rich Paul and his former boss, Knicks president Leon Rose, buried the hatchet before Saturday’s contest in a meeting whose intent was to thaw tensions between them.
The meeting between Klutch Sports and Rose presumably ends a decade of frosty relations between Klutch and the Knicks. Between 2005 and 2012, Rose represented James and was Paul’s boss, showing him the inside outs of the business. However, trouble began brewing in 2007 when Rose’s firm was bought by CAA. That arrangement gave CAA inroads into the NBA, but it also resulted in acrimony that ultimately created a Cold War between the two super agencies.
By 2012, Paul was venturing out with James to form Klutch Sports, leaving behind CAA, Rose and current Knicks Executive Vice President William “Worldwide” Wes. Over the years, though, Paul has been open about his disdain for his stint with CAA.
Last fall, Paul vented to Shannon Sharpe on Club Shay Shay and ESPN’s First Take about the fallout of him leaving CAA to form Klutch Sports, and taking James with him. During the press tour promoting his memoir Paul repeatedly claimed he didn’t learn much from his previous agency, Rose or other Black agents, but instead gave the bulk of the credit for his growth as a rep to veteran contract negotiator Mark Termini.
The overreaction to those series of events has sent the Knicks hurtling into a state of delusion not seen from them since the summer of 2019 when they were foolhardy enough to believe Zion Williamson, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant were a sure thing for the Big Apple. After being humbled, Knicks fans are back on high ground.
Let’s run through the James hypothetical for the sake of discussion. For the first time in James’ professional career, the Knicks happen to be a well-oiled machine that is run by his former agent. The glow-up is real. A fourth title between Cleveland, L.A., Miami and New York would be akin to hitting for the career cycle. New York would revere James more than Los Angeles has been since he clinched their 18th in 2020.
However, in the aftermath of his Klutch meeting, Paul went out of his way to dispel any scuttlebutt claiming that James requested a trade. That time has passed. A 39-year-old James for Julius Randle swap rapidly accelerates the Knicks timeline, but another more favorable interpretation of his hourglass tweet last week is him acknowledging time is running out in his career.
Between Rose squashing beef with Paul and James activating his passive-aggressive signals by wearing a Knicks towel, the rumor mill has been running on nuclear energy.
On Monday’s edition of his Hoop Collective podcast, Brian Windhorst splashed cold water on the speculation that James’ towel choice was a shot across the Lakers’ bow rather than an endorsement of his interest in the Knicks.
“He was cognizant and aware that he was putting on a towel that said New York Knicks. Why would he mess with the Knicks? Because he was using the Knicks as a tool to pressure the Lakers,” Windhorst said.
Let’s nip this in the bud once and for all. LeBron James will never be a New York Knick. That ship sailed a long time ago. He would disrupt their offensive rhythm and be too large of a personality for Tom Thibodeau to manage. At 39, the risks outweigh the benefits for a team revving up with such a long runway ahead. Unless the Knicks plan to draft Bronny and sign King James to a mid-level exception or trade Julius Randle to invest in a vintage NBA free agency get-rich-quick scheme, it isn’t happening.
The cooling of tensions probably won’t mean much for James’ future, but it opens the Knicks as legitimate options for Klutch clients after years of being a CAA-only organization. But if James’ time as a Laker is winding down, Klutch client Anthony Davis needs to secure his own soft landing. The Brow should be appreciative of Paul and Rose clearing any obstacles for his next possible destination once the Lakers come to realize that a rebuild is in their best interests.
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