LeBron James Sweepstakes Can Make Or Break New York Knicks NBA free agency just started, and so far, it’s been nothing but bad news for the Knicks.

This was supposed to be their summer. This was supposed to be the offseason the Knicks became relevant in the basketball world.

The Knicks and their fans are starving for that basketball relevance, and this was supposed to be the offseason the Knicks were going to satisfy that hunger.

Of course, the main course of this free-agent class is arguably the best player in the world — LeBron James. The Knicks and their fans have had their eye on King James for some time now, counting down the days until July 1, 2010, for a chance to pitch the merits of playing in “The City That Never Sleeps.”

But even before the calendar turned from June to July, reports surfaced that LeBron was headed to Chicago. And then Miami. Either way, there have been no reports about LeBron coming to New York. There were reports that LeBron was going to meet early in the process with the Knicks, but that’s obviously a formality.

And then on Wednesday, SNY.tv reported that a source within the Knicks organization said the Knicks have turned their attention to guard Joe Johnson, not James, as their No. 1 free-agent target.

The source didn’t stop there.

“Yes, we think [Johnson’s] the better player,” the source reportedly said. “He makes other people better. With LeBron’s people running the locker room, that hurts the organization.”

The story also mentions that the Knicks would make a strong push for forward Amare Stoudemire. In Johnson and Stoudemire, the Knicks would have two players who played for head coach Mike D’Antoni, when they were all with the Suns.

Familiarity aside, Johnson and Stoudemire wouldn’t do nearly as much to help restore credibility and relevance to the Knicks as someone like LeBron or even another highly touted free agent like Dwyane Wade would.

But that’s not the end of the bad news for the Knicks and their fans. The Nets are ready to make a strong push for the services of King James. New owner — Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov — has already shown that he’s going to do whatever he can to build a winner in New Jersey.

On top of that, rapper Jay-Z — a part owner of the Nets and noted buddy of LeBron — will be there to help convince LeBron to rebuild the Nets.

The fact that the Knicks have fallen so far down in the LeBron sweepstakes is bad enough. But if the Nets were to sign LeBron, just a couple of years before an anticipated move to Brooklyn, it could be a monumental blow to the Knicks.

The Knicks are the top basketball draw in New York City. But if they lose out on LeBron James and are unable to establish some sort of stable basketball foundation, then he lands with the Nets, the Knickerbockers will be in real trouble.

If the Knicks aren’t careful, they’re going to be taking a backseat to the Nets in the tri-state area and stay in a spot they’ve become accustomed to in the recent past — the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

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