The large amount of cap space being freed by the New York Knicks and the likely move of the New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn indicate that a huge change is coming our way, and hopefully for the better.
Nets owner Bruce Ratner is currently working on a deal to sell 80 percent of the franchise. As of now, it seems that Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov will control this huge stake of the team in order to finance the fledgling Atlantic Yards construction project that would move the Nets from the Izod Center to Brooklyn.
Prokhorov, if approved by team owners, would be the first foreign-born majority owner in the NBA. Ratner has been having difficulty securing the funds to continue this project and the $200 million influx Prokhorov would be just what he needs to continue.
The Barclays Center, the expected Nets arena, will take up $950 million of the $3.5 billion dollar project, which also contains business and residential components. Along with Prokhorov's suspected investment, Barclays Bank of London has offered to pay $400 million over the next 20 years to secure the naming rights of the arena. These two sources of foreign investment may be a last ditch effort by Ratner to avoid the collapse of the entire project.
Money is not the only issue preventing the Nets from leaving New Jersey; many attempts are being made to stop the construction. Opponents have argued that Ratner is not planning to build what he originally intended, and that his company's use of the eminent domain statute to remove current property owners in the proposed construction site is unethical. Courts have repeatedly ruled in favor of Ratner and his company Forest City Enterprises, but a final appeal case is scheduled to occur in mid-October.
If the appeal fails, construction will be permitted to begin, although it is unlikely that much progress will be made until the spring. If construction does not begin by Dec. 31, the project will almost definitely be ended, in accordance with agreements made by Ratner.
Along with the new funds courtesy of Prokhorov comes a chance to hire some big-name players in the long awaited 2010 free agent extravaganza. The NBA's shape as a whole will likely change before the 2011 season, and will result in a reconfiguration of many teams. Prokhorov, who is anything but a timid spender, will have no problem paying a luxury tax to hire some key players such as LeBron James himself.
Another figure that adds credence to this is the fact that approximately $20 million in cap room will be relieved after the contracts of some star players expire. This willingness to spend on high-priced free agents and pay the luxury tax is something that may cause many of the other non-taxpaying owners to approve his buyout of the team.
The Knicks are a whole different story. Although they continue to disappoint fans year after year, the franchise itself still remains highly profitable. Madison Square Garden is not going anywhere; it remains one of the most iconic sports and entertainment venues in the country. The team occupying it, however, is anything less than iconic. James Dolan, owner of the Knicks, has been making some decisive moves to clear up space for the summer of 2010.
The biggest speculation is that, just like every other team in the league, the Knicks are interested in James. But, unlike many other teams, the Knicks have the money and cap room to make this plausible. In addition, James has expressed interest in coming to New York and becoming the face of the Knicks franchise for a large chunk of his career. Right now, however, it's likely that he isn't going anywhere.
It's much easier for James to be to the Cavaliers what Jordan was for the Bulls, rather than to the Knicks or Nets. Although, if no expenses are spared and James is made an offer he can't refuse - such as possibly becoming the first athlete to be offered a billion dollar contract - I can see him becoming a resident of the Big Apple.
Much more realistic options in my mind for both the Knicks and Nets are All-Star players such as Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade or Amare Stoudemire. These players, while not on the same talent level as James, are still talented enough to make a franchise into a serious contender. It is even possible that a combination of these players on the same team will result.
No matter what happens, however, New York basketball will still change in a positive manner.