When it comes to the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets, there’s a clear big brother-little brother relationship. The Knicks are one of the most storied franchises in NBA history, while the Nets were an ABA product with a muddled history. The Knicks owned the bright lights of New York, while the Nets were banished for years in the little brother state of New Jersey.
The two teams play each other Friday night, and like usual the Knicks are the main event, and the Nets have for the most part been a cute sideshow. Kristaps Porzingis and the Knickerbockers have far and away the brighter future because of the Nets’ Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett deal, and adding insult to injury, they’ve been a much better team so far this season as well.
At 9-10, the Knicks aren’t world beaters by any stretch, but every fan wearing a blue and orange jersey at Madison Square Garden is counting their blessings that they aren’t the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets have a lack of quality young players, despite moving on from Deron Williams, Pierce and Garnett in recent years. The core of the team is Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young and Rondae-Hollis Jefferson, which just isn’t all that exciting.
It doesn’t help that the Nets stink (although looking a BIT better) and still don’t own their own first-round draft pick until 2019. The Knicks had their one REALLY down season last year, and came away with a budding superstar from Latvia, while the Nets blew every chance they had at rebuilding the team.
Despite their big brother status, the Knicks have basically taken the majority of the last decade and a half to alienate the fans and embarrass the basketball gods. In that time, the Nets made a very serious recent attempt to take hold of the New York/Tri-State Area. The real turn came with owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who promised to change Knicks fans into Nets fans and win a championship in “one year minimum and maximum in five years.”
Prokhorov and the Nets made a couple of very serious moves to try to step on the turf of their rivals. First, they announced the move from the Izod Center in New Jersey to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, along with the streamlined uniform and logo that came with the move.
While the Knicks were putting together a package to trade for Carmelo Anthony, the Nets entered the bidding and tried to steal him. When that failed, they took their assets and traded them for Deron Williams instead. That may not seem significant now, but at the time the feeling was that the Nets had made the better deal, and according to some had acquired the better player (remember when Deron Williams vs. Chris Paul as the NBA’s best point guard was a thing?).
Then after a small surge by the Anthony-led Knicks, the Nets made the big moves in order to stay relevant, trading a top three protected pick for Gerald Wallace. Shortly after, they mortgaged the entire future to build a core around Williams, Lopez, Joe Johnson, Pierce and Garnett, and hired Nets legend Jason Kidd off the Knicks’ roster to coach the team. For a moment, the Nets looked like they could steal away some fans, even if it’s a little bit out there to think they’d ever own the city.
That may sound crazy, but back during Kidd’s run with the Nets as a player, they kind of did own the city. They were back-to-back Eastern Conference champions, and although the Los Angeles Lakers bullied them in the NBA Finals in 2002, they gave the 2003 San Antonio Spurs a run for their money. The Knicks at the time were coming off the Patrick Ewing era, and were bogged down with bad contracts and worse talent.
To make matters worse, their big superstar signing of the decade was former Nets point guard Stephon Marbury, who the Nets traded to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for Kidd, a move that altered the direction of the franchise.
Ironically, Porzingis is the perfect character to be that next franchise-altering player. The Latvian Lurch just won the NBA’s Rookie of the Month award. It’s reductive to compare Latvia to Russia, but it isn’t a secret that Prokhorov would love to have a European player he could effectively market both here in America and internationally. It doesn’t hurt that his shooting and athleticism make him a serious threat in the modern NBA offense, and at 20 he has plenty of room to improve.
When the Nets take the long walk over to Madison Square Garden, already past the five-year maximum they had to deliver on Prokhorov’s promise, they do so as a heavy underdog to the Knicks, who looked dead-to-rights as a franchise just a year ago.
Porzingis has a chance to add to the magic he had throughout November, and in doing so serve as another reminder of all the assets the Nets gave up to acquire this 5-13 group, and put a little salt in the wound of Prokhorov’s pride that the Knicks are better today and look like they’ll remain that way for the foreseeable future. The Nets thought they had a chance to move in on the Knicks’ market share, but it looks like they’re destined to always be a footnote when it comes to basketball in New York.