How much longer that jersey says "New Orleans" instead of "New York" will depend on the Miami Heat.
Sorry, Gotham. If you want a chance to compete for NBA championships over the next decade, you are going to have to do the unthinkable.
You are going to have to root for the Miami Heat. For Pat Riley. For that same franchise that your team had so many epic playoff battles with throughout the late part of the 1990's.
Don't get me wrong; you are not going to root for them because they are the Heat. You are going to root for them because the success of their "Big Three" will set the foundation for a "Big Three" of your own in the Big Apple. One that is already two-thirds of the way there.
You see, after the Heat dropped the Boston Celtics from the Eastern Conference playoffs, it signified a lot of things.
First, it may have signaled a changing of the guard in the Eastern Conference. But it may also have validated the plans of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in forming their own "Big Three" to emulate the Celtics, no matter how corrupt or unfairly premeditated those plans may have been.
The truth behind that came pouring out, along with the emotions following Miami's Game 5 elimination of Boston.
"They set the blueprint for us when they decided to make the trade for KG and for Ray," James told the Boston Globe. "Seeing guys make sacrifices to come together and play as one. They set the blueprint and went out there and did it. They won a championship. They competed every year."
"As much as I loved my teammates back in Cleveland, as much as I loved home, I knew I couldn't do it by myself."
So the "Boston Blueprint" played a major role in LeBron's leaving Cleveland.
It played a major role in getting Chris Bosh aboard to leave Toronto. And if Miami does, indeed, win it all this spring, it will resonate throughout the league even louder than Boston's title did in 2008.
That is because, unlike the Celtics triumvirate, the Heat's nucleus is young. It can be argued that James, at age 26, is not even in his prime yet. Wade is 29, while Bosh is 27. All three of the Celtics' superstars were on the far side of 30 in 2008.
The message will be clear amidst the confetti that falls on Miami Thrice in June: If you don't have your own Big Three soon, then don't even bother showing up.
What will resonate along with that statement will be the now-infamous toast made by New Orleans Hornets (for now) point guard Chris Paul at Carmelo Anthony's wedding last summer. Paul seemed to already foreshadow the league's landscape in light of Miami's alliance when he toasted to Anthony, then a Denver Nugget, and freshly-minted Knick Amar'e Stoudemire that "We'll form our own Big 3."
That was in July of 2010. Seven months later, Anthony joined Stoudemire and became a Knick, himself. New York was two-thirds of the way there.
And Paul became that last piece.
With a new collective bargaining agreement coming up after this summer—one that could possibly lead to a work stoppage—it remains to be seen if and how Paul plans to reach free agency.
If there is a "franchise tag" in the new CBA, it will make his mission that much more difficult. And the salary cap, which was at $58 million last summer, may drop considerably. A hard cap may also be in play as opposed to the soft cap the NBA has in place right now.
All of this may make it difficult for Paul to leave New Orleans and follow through on his pledge to join forces with Anthony and Stoudemire in New York.
Anyone who watched the Knicks struggle mightily against the Celtics in this year's playoffs could probably glean that New York is one playmaker away from having a championship-level nucleus. With a scorer (Anthony) and a low-post option (Stoudemire) already in place, that elite point guard is the last piece.
Seeing Miami succeed with their blueprint immediately after coming together would have to whet Paul's appetite even more. Paul, one of the league's most solid citizens and upstanding guys, may have to take a page out of Anthony's book and torpedo New Orleans' season if they do not do what he wants them to do.
If Paul is allowed to reach free agency (and this would only be possible if there is no franchise tag), he would even be inclined to take a slight pay cut to jump ship to Manhattan. Remember, all three of Miami's superstars took less than the maximum salary—with Wade taking the largest pay cut of the three—to make sure their vision became a reality.
A Miami championship would accelerate the process.
There is no way a competitor like Paul sits through another season in the Big Easy while the two guys he pretty much promised to play with continue to be one player away from going toe-to-toe with the hated Heat. And with all due respect to the Hornets, as tough as they played the Lakers in the first round, they are nowhere close to competing for a title. That was never more evident than when the same Laker team went on to get annihilated by Dallas in the very next round.
Consider that it was Paul who had the vision to create this nucleus in New York and that it came less than a week after James made his announcement to take his talents to South Beach, and the Hornets are staring right in the face of one of the ugliest seasons in franchise history (well, unless you count their last lame duck season in Charlotte).
The Nuggets know all about that. In the end, they had no choice. They had to send Anthony to the team of his choice: the New York Knicks. Yes, Denver got quite a package of players out of it, but in a superstar-driven league, it will be quite some time until they have another Carmelo Anthony.
Also remember that Paul and James are very, very close friends. Paul was at the hospital when James' two children were born. James was one of the guests at the first birthday party for Paul's son. And in a league where players' loyalties to each other and their friendships have now begun to supersede those to the name on the front of their jerseys, you have to believe that Paul's best interest is a priority for James.
Do you think he's telling CP3 to stay in New Orleans? Especially when he is also friends with both Anthony and Stoudemire?
So brace yourselves, New Orleans.
And Knicks fans: The faster Miami wins a championship, the faster you will get your Big Three. If you want to talk about championships, you are not winning without one.
The fact that Chris Paul knows that—and that the Heat look headed to claiming their place in the NBA's penthouse—means that the Knicks are a lot closer to their Big Three than you think.