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Trades Place Bets in LeBron Sweepstakes

The battle lines for the services of LeBron James became clearly outlined as a result of two deals made before the NBA trading deadline passed.

The New York Knicks, in a three-way deal Thursday, got disgruntled Houston Rockets guard Tracy McGrady and his expiring $23 million salary.

That and trading high-salaried Jared Jeffries (to the Rockets) and Larry Hughes (to the Sacramento Kings) give the Knicks the financial flexibility to offer nearly two maximum contracts to free agents after the season.

"This trade improves our position to achieve our long-term goals (of attracting free agents), while also keeping us competitive (for the season)," Knicks President Donnie Walsh said.

The top prospective free agent, of course, is James, whose Cleveland Cavaliers pulled their own three-team deal late Wednesday for high-scoring Antawn Jamison. "His shooting ability is unbelievable. The fact he can play multiple positions can really make us versatile," James said.

If Jamison helps the Cavs win the NBA title, would James be happy to remain with his home-state team? Or would the Big Apple, and all of its opportunities, be impossible to overlook with a team capable of surrounding him with extraordinary talent?

The Chicago Bulls also cleared salary-cap space, including sending off John Salmons and his $5.8 million option to the Milwaukee Bucks.

"A lot of teams were positioning themselves to be able to attract a maximum free agent this summer, so we created that flexibility," Bulls general manager Gar Forman said.

A target could be Chicago native Dwyane Wade, whose Miami Heat failed to get the Phoenix Suns' Amar'e Stoudemire. "Nothing really struck our fancy," Suns general manager Steve Kerr said of all teams' offers.

The Boston Celtics finally got guard Nate Robinson from the Knicks.

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