The annual Fourth of July extravaganza at James Dolan’s Long Island estate was upstaged by Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. Even before Dolan could set off the first fireworks, the Knicks learned Wednesday that Steve Nash, their top free-agent target, is headed to the Lakers in a sign-and-trade with the Phoenix Suns. The deal makes the Lakers a strong contender in the Western Conference and leaves the Knicks with a gaping hole at point guard. Incumbent point guard Jeremy Lin met with Houston Rockets officials on Wednesday in Texas and the restricted free agent was expected to receive a contract offer worth approximately $40 million over four years. The Knicks were expected to match any offer for Lin regardless of whether Nash joined the club. Now it is imperative that the Knicks retain Lin and look to the free-agent market or possibly a trade to acquire a starting-caliber point guard. Veteran point guard Jason Kidd would make the most sense, but Kidd reportedly will return to Dallas, which lost out on Deron Williams and Nash. Another plausible option for the Knicks is free agent Raymond Felton, who played well for them before being traded to Denver in the Carmelo Anthony deal. Houston free agent Goran Dragic is a possibility, but the Knicks would have to work out a sign-and-trade to get him.
The Raptors are also interested in Dragic and are desperate to make a move now that they have lost out on Nash, a Canadian citizen to whom they offered a three-year, $36 million contract. It was a difficult offer to reject, no question. But by going to the Lakers, Nash has the opportunity to win a championship. Plus, he would be just a short flight from Phoenix, where his three children live with his former wife. Several sources maintain that Nash was reluctant to move east to New York or Toronto. The Knicks’ only hope of acquiring Nash was via a sign-and-trade, and there were preliminary discussions, but contrary to reports, nothing was ever substantial. Also, it is obvious that the Knicks were never really under consideration from Nash, who preferred to play for a championship contender. People close to Nash maintain that he wasn’t thrilled with the idea of playing with Carmelo Anthony. The feeling was that their styles didn’t mesh. Of course, Bryant, like Anthony, likes to dominate the ball, so it will be interesting to see how he and Nash, two of the NBA’s top players over the last decade, will fare as teammates. Nash will receive a three-year deal from the Lakers worth approximately $25 million. The Suns will reportedly get first-round picks in 2013 and 2015 as well as second-round picks in 2013 and 2014. The deal can’t be officially completed until July 11, when a league-wide moratorium is lifted. Two days ago, the Raptors signed Landry Fields to a three-year, $19 million offer sheet that the Knicks are not expected to match. The move was designed to make it difficult for the Knicks to negotiate a sign-and-trade for Nash. The Suns did have interest in Iman Shumpert, a player the Knicks do not want to part with even though Shumpert suffered a major knee injury in the playoffs and may not return until February. Shumpert now remains a Knick and Lin shouldn’t be far behind. The X factor, of course, is Dolan, the chairman of Madison Square Garden. Dolan is a free-spending owner but he may resent the fact that Lin, who was given a chance in New York, would be forcing the Knicks to overpay to keep him.