The lockout's over. But apparently the exact canker sore that caused such a rift between the owners & players still festers -- for now at least --and hardly hours after players began reporting to their respective team facilities, to catch balls from fetching machines, we have Deron Williams, Dwight Howard & Chris Paul speculative trade talks starting to bubble & boil.

ďHe said this,Ē ďItís reported that,Ē ďSources say.Ē Oh freaking jolly!

As Knick fans, we know all to well what lifeís like on this Ďhope for a brighter dayí carousel. After the lost aughts-decade that defined the post Patrick era, we witnessed this firsthand; actually employing & encouraging such behavior, making this an organizational philosophy when Donnie Walsh arrived. We were told to sit tight & embrace the losing, weíre in for a bumpy 2 years but chin up because better days are ahead, and then weíre making a run at LJ+1.

Little did we know that a plan was born during the 2008 Olympic Games, one that comes with the label: Made in China.

Now it wasnít just owners & GMs who conspired, but in this brave new world players started scheming, planning & working toward more than simple, lofty personal goals (chasing cash). While these motives werenít altogether altruistic, the power of team-building shifted from the front office to the agents as players awoke to the realization that they sought to chase both cash & titles, and felt that the rule of the playground should apply: choose your own squad. And if a shoe deal, & clothing line, and a reality show & starlet came with that . . . then more power to Ďya, yo!

Itís early December, & for the first time since Bill Clinton was president I have legitimate hope for my beloved New York Knicks, to go with an earnest belief that they are a top-4 team in the Eastern Conference.

We have the best offensive SF-PF duo in the sport (Amaríe-Anthony), a battle-tested gritty vet PG (Billups), to go with a sprinkle of young players with potential (Tony Douglas, Landry Fields, Iman Shumpert, Derrick Brown, Jerome Jordan, Bill Walker), a feisty competitor in Ronny Turiaf, & (hopefully) our surprising reclamation product (otherwise known as Shawne Williams).

I admit, knowing Jared Jeffries is around for another 66 games gives me heartburn. But such is life. Iím not a Díantoni supporter, but Iím on board to give him this last season as his final exam. Put up or shut up time, Mike. Phil Jax looms brother.

Nonetheless, this eclectic cast of characters, in the SSOL system, will be a pleasure to watch (and dare I say grow). After the Marburys, Anderson-Eisleys, Currys of the world, this is saying something. Good times have returned, I am about 300 yards beyond the outer fringes of excitement.

I should be thinking about winning now though. I should be calling for the team to forgo cap space in 2012-2013, urging the team to make a run a DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol (both restricted) or Nene (unrestricted). I could at least be asking to dip our feet in the free agent waters, begging to forget about waiting for yet another max player: go make a run at Jamaal Crawford or Arron Afflalo & Tyson Chandler or Chucky Hayes. Letís win now!

Am I conditioned? Or has to bar sunk, & my standards lowered, that Iím now willing to push title aspiration back 1 more season (making this promised land I was told about after 2007 be 5 years in the making)?

Enfin, here I am. Iím settling on free agents like Grant Hill & Jeff Foster. Iím poised to take a low risk Ė high reward guy like Michael Redd and be hip-hip-flipping happy about it. Iím prepared to enter the season with a SG who struggles to score, a bench devoid of a 3-point sniper, with guys like Jeffries & possibly Joorts in the rotation. Iím cool with a temp filling the lane at center. Iím ready for another 30-win season!

Iím dreaming of a starting 5 (Billups-Hill-Carmelo-Amaríe-Brown).

Iím ecstatic to have a bench where Douglas is my first G in the game (this guy is healthy, jacked, & ready to be a real consistent player), a combo G/F jack-of-all trades versatile guy in Fields (poor manís T-Prince), Shawne Williams (tall sniper), play-defense bigs in Turiaf & Jeffries, to go with some young players w/ high ceilings in Walker, Shumpert & Jordan. Mix in an amnesty casualty for insurance. Stir & serve.

But, then again, like a firefly drawn to a torch in the backyard Iím fascinated about this whole Chris Paul saga. Mainly because there are a plethora of asides & tertiary roads that branch off from this story, forming a web of debates that pit a bunch of personalities & interests against each other, conflicting emotions even within themselves.

Also, though, because I know we wonít be players in free agency. Even halfway decent free agents, who would be bona fide additions to our roster, are demanding 2 years at the minimum. Our front office just isnít prepared to go there. We basically know from what tier of players weíre going to get, the discount store weíre shopping at. We hold out hope that somebody takes less money to rebuild their rep, or sees this system/city/roster as an attraction. Weíll see.

F I N A L L Y, I arrive at my point. Let me talk about why I am so interested in the Chris Paul drama. Sure, I want him playing at MSG, and would prefer it sooner rather than later. But really Iím find this intriguing because I want to see what this lockout was really about. I think the next 2 weeks will tell us that. Hereís why:

1. What's most interesting about the 'Chris Paul-to-Knicks' scenario are the players invovled in . . . in management. New Orleans GM is Dell Demps, a former NYK scout & IsiahThomas confidant. He's already made a trade w/ NY (sending us a draft pick - Joorts - for a million bucks). Has a relationship with Dolan.

This relationship is good news. Well, it's not West sending Gasol to LAL or McHale dealing KG to BOS, but knowing that Dolan's secret assistant (IT) is the mentor of NO's wheeler-&-dealer (DD)... If a deal is to be made, I'm sure it'll be far from an acrimonious process. Still, knowing our luck, Demps sees this as his moment in the sun, his time to shine, his make-or-break deal that either launches or sinks his front office career.

2. Then there's the reality of who ultimately is in control of the Hornets. The NBA is running things for now. This means all decisions boil down to Mr. David Stern, and this means the motives here are ambigious at best. I would like to think (ala Ewing draft) that Stern sees the value sending Paul to NY. Building a big market obstacle to the HEATles makes perfect sense.

Newton's 3rd Law of Motion at work here. Every action has an equal & opposite reaction. Players built MIA Frankenstein, so NBA battles that w/ the NYK big-3.

It'll help get rid of the bad taste in our mouths, caused by this foolish lockout mess which was preceded by owners crawling-groveling-bowing to the King in a CLE business office, and would set up a potential dynastic rivalry on par w/ Larry-Magic & MJ-NY, when the NBA was celebrating its "golden era."

I feel it's hard to balance the needs/interests of Stern, & the NBA owner's.

On one hand, commissioner David Stern had tried to reduce the leverage players have in demanding trades in the new CBA... but on the other hand we have the fact that THE LAST THING STERN WANTS IS FOR DERON, PAUL & HOWARD TO REPLAY WHAT WENT ON IN DENVER LAST YEAR. This would only serve as a reminder of everything that ticked off small market owners in the pre-lockout era, which we supposedly put behind us!

On a side note, I don't understand why the MELOdrama was so destructive for DEN? The Nuggets managed to snag 4 starters from our roster (Felton, Chandler, Gallo, MOZ) plus draft picks & cash. I mean, wouldn't the 'do-not-copy' template be what happened in TOR & CLE?

So, is it better to get proven young NBA talent (DEN) or to hold out in a game of chicken & call the player's bluff, settling for draft picks when all is said & done, rolling the dice in the draft (CLE & TOR)?

Tough call huh? 50/50 thang, right. You can make an argument for each side. Flip the coin, time will tell, _____ (your cliche here).

3. I make this point #3, but this is really the only thing that matters: CP3 is in total and complete control here. For this season, & next, teams that are over the cap can pull off sign-&-trades for players. I believe this is not the case after 2013. Anyway, for this season, & next year, free agents to be or players with opt-outs, they have all the leverage. They can threaten to walk which means their teams have 3 options:

- Find a sucker who'll give you valuable assets for a rental player who won't sign an extension.

- Trade player for 40 cents on the dollar (or less).

- Call bluff, play it all out, & when he signs with another team crawl back to that player offering him 15-20 million more dollars by working out a sign & trade, thus settling for a draft pick or two.

So disregard the nonsense you're reading now. OF COURSE, NO would love S-Curry for Paul. But why would GSW, or BOS, or anyone trade w/ NO knowing Paul won't agree to an extension?

It's all semantics. Letting Demps know you won't sign an extension in NO, and adding to that you'll refuse to sign an extension w/ any team other than NYK... that's akin to demanding a trade (if you ask me). What will Paul do? We will find out.

4. Now there are 2 main . . . no H-U-G-E . . . factors to consider here when it comes to playing this game of chicken. One issue should concern NO, while the other should cause Paul to sweat a little.

- The Knicks donít have their 2012 or 2014 first-round picks. Under NBA rules, the Knicks canít trade a first-round pick until 2016 because a team canít be without a pick in back-to-back years. The Knicksí 2012 pick is with Houston from the Tracy McGrady deal and the 2014 pick went to Denver.

This means that NYK could only offer the Fields-Shump-Douglas sort of package if this deal is put off until next July. This means that NO is better served making a deal before the trade deadling, for at least they can drag a 3rd team into the mix and use Billups as a chip to snag another piece.

- According to via a bleacher report: "But hereís the most important thing that nobody seems to realize: The most lucrative option for ANY player, based on the new CBA, is to become a free agent and re-sign with the team that holds their Bird Rights. Thatís the only way to get the fifth guaranteed year."

As the NY Post notes: "Thereís a reason Paul would want to go now and not wait until 2012. According to the new tentative CBA, if Paul is traded before Jan. 1, he could retain Bird rights with that new team and sign a lucrative extension deal spanning five years after the season. If he waits until the summer, he can sign with the Knicks for four years but at less-than-the-max, about $13 million."

So, this means, that not only would Paul leave money on the table if he waits until free agency to leave NO to sign w/ NYK but even if a sign & trade is completed then he still leaves money on the table. We're talking about 20 mil people. Paul wont leave 20 mil. Carmelo wouldn't. Obviously, if Carmelo waited... we would have package to get Paul. Oh well.

5. Finally, we have to consider the mental aspect of this ordeal. CP3 is not the same as Carmelo, b/c Anthony was dancing all alone... Paul is playing musical chairs here. There's Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, possibly Steve Nash... There are other options out there. Just as we worry & fret about having to wait this out and hope Paul chooses us next July, Chris Paul has to think about the same thing. What if? What if Knicks act now, sign a Nene and blah blah blah. What if we trade for Howard, keep Dantoni & sign Nash? Paul is the one in the bad spot, b/c NYK already has 2 super stars & a serviceable, proven PG.

When you add it all up, you get a player (Chris Paul) who is wondering if NY has the patience to wait until next July... worrying about them suddenly changing directions & moving on to another plan of attack.

He has to be asking himself the question: Will they do this a third time? First Lebron, then Carmelo... now me? When will enough be enough. After all, Walsh isn't around anymore. The pressure to WIN NOW persists even larger this season.

Then you get a player thinking about his pocket, knowing he gets the MAX $ he can make w/ the Knicks if he's on our roster before Jan 1st.

You have a person who doesn't want to endure the season-long questioning, & madness, that will accompany the 'opt-out-man' who is poised to flee New Orleans.

You have a team owned by the NBA. Is this good or bad? One one side, Stern wants to keep value of org highest for potential buters, but on the flip side of the coin you don't have the ego of a pissed off owner trying to stick it to a player. Stern wont take this personal. It might help b/c he might want to make a big market team more attractive, and build a team in NYC that can give MIA a run for its money.

Knicks have an in w/ NOís front office.

NBA owns the Hornets, which means the league will either try to prevent the players from wrestling leverage from the owners again or will work to prevent a replay of the entire fiasco that was a self-perpetuating rumor mill sapping the energies of all parties involved, looking to pull the tape off quickly & end it all before it even begins.

So there it is. I'm allowing myself 3 weeks to get all wrapped up in this. When the season begins, I'm over it! Seriously. Then it's just BBALL and dat's all folks.

So while I eagerly await what pieces we add to the roster, while I contemplate swapping Stoudemire for D-Howard, I will permit some CP3 indulgence here.

I vacillate back & forth. Feel like we have .01% chance to get Paul in a trade, then feel the odds are in our favor. I then feel like might get him next July, then feel like there's no hope. For 3 weeks... I'll allow this to perculate, then I start rooting for victories!