LeBron's timing will impact a Bosh-Lee deal

By Chris Sheridan

My ESPN colleague Chad Ford has broken the news that Chris Bosh has given the Toronto Raptors a list of four teams to which he would accept a sign-and-trade deal, and the New York Knicks are on it (along with the Bulls, Lakers and Heat).

And as of now, May 23, one would have to consider the Knicks the favorites because they would be willing to offer more, barring a Lakers flameout in the playoffs, than any of those other teams.

That more, of course, is power forward David Lee, who Toronto would gladly take on in a sign-and-trade.

But it isn't going to be all that easy, and the reason is timing.

As Ford notes in his news item and subsequent blog entry, Bosh's decision will be heavily influenced by LeBron James' decision on where he decides to play. And since James is on record saying he is not going to rush things when it comes time to make his decision after the free agency wooing period opens on July 1, trouble could be a'brewing.

Let's say 12:01 a.m. arrives on July 1, and Knicks, Heat and Bulls are all able to make their initial pitches before the sun comes up. Presumably, James would tell the Knicks who he would want to play alongside him, and if James asks for Bosh, the Knicks really have no choice but to go along.

So the Knicks would then go and speak to Lee, telling him they are willing to sign him to a six-year deal with a $10 million starting salary and 10.5 percent annual raises, which would add up to nearly $76 million, and then trade him to Toronto for Bosh.

And let's go ahead and postulate that the Knicks and Raptors would have the parameters of that deal agreed to by 5 p.m. on July 1.

That's where it gets tricky.

Let's say James -- he of the "I'm not going to rush it" quote -- decides he wants to take 48 to 72 hours to make up his mind, putting the Bosh-Lee deal in limbo. After all, if Bosh wants to hitch his wagon to James, and James ultimately decides he wants to play for Miami, Bosh is going to want to finagle a way to South Beach, too.

That would kill the Lee-Bosh deal -- if it hasn't already been killed by circumstances entirely out of the Knicks control.

Because even if the James signing goes into a 72-hour limbo, the courtship of Lee will not.

And by the time 12:01 a.m. hits on July 2, it is entirely possible Lee will have another offer sitting on the table from one of the several other teams with plenty of cap space, and one of those teams may be willing to go a lot higher than a $10 million starting salary.

Take, for example, the New Jersey Nets, whose new owner said Wednesday that one of the team's two greatest needs for the upcoming season is a power forward to play alongside Brook Lopez.

Imagine the Nets told Lee: "Look, David. We are willing to give you a five-year contract with a $13 million starting salary with 8 percent annual raises (which adds up to $75.4 million), but we need an answer in the next hour. You going to take it? Or leave it?" (The Phoenix Suns made such an ultimatum in 2004 when they signed Steve Nash away from the Dallas Mavericks).

At that point the Knicks whole grand plan could explode, because if Lee bolts without doing a sign-and-trade, the Knicks would have a greatly reduced shot at getting Bosh (who wants the $30 million extra he would earn from doing a sign-and-trade rather than just signing outright with an under-the-cap team).

And if the possibility of acquiring Bosh is suddenly off the table, James might decide his best chance to win would not be in New York.

Again, it all comes down to James' timetable. But a source close to Lee has made it clear that he will not be held hostage by the NBA's free agent alpha domino, which means Knicks fans should not only be hoping James chooses New York, but that he does so quickly.