New York is often considered one of the best cities in the world. It boasts over 8 million people and has classic songs and movies that center around it. Within the city, you will find a lot of smaller areas. Much in the way a mosaic creates a masterpiece when viewed from afar, New York is a melting pot of people from different backgrounds and experiences giving America a sense of identity and when here, a sense of family.
However, like any close family, there's bound to be some tension and rivalry. For New York City, basketball pride has always been the Knicks. They brought in two NBA titles in the 1970s and every loyalist will tell you there's vision to bring the glory back.
The Nets? They were a New Jersey thing that happened to move to Brooklyn about a decade ago. The Knicks were like the firstborn child, who no matter what, would have the expectations and the pressure to succeed. As for the Nets, it was always like Lisa Simpson, no matter what she did, her older brother Bart would get the attention.
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Taking the Simpsons and family minutiae aside, the Knicks and Nets both entered the summer of 2019 with hopes they would put pieces together to return to relevancy. Between 1999 and 2003, the Knicks and Nets were responsible for 3 of the 5 NBA Finals appearances for the Eastern Conference. Then, both teams spent the next decade trying to stay afloat through trades and free agency. The Knicks faithful repeatedly expected free agents to land in the Big Apple only to watch their franchise lose out. Then 2019 happened. The Knicks were poised to sign two max free agents and pair them with a top lottery pick.
First, the Knicks were going to get 2-time NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Nope. He went to Los Angeles to join Paul George and the Clippers.
Second, the Knicks had hoped to sign splash brother Klay Thompson. That didn't happen. The former three-point champion decided to remain with the Golden State Warriors. Then Kemba Walker, who originates from the Bronx, was going to return home to New York. Strike three. The UConn alum went to Boston. Jimmy Butler? Negative. Maybe someone with star power that wanted some more attention say, Al Horford - try 4 years with Philadelphia.
So, what did the Knicks get? After drafting Canadian phenom RJ Barrett, the Knicks notable signings included Marcus Morris, Julius Randle, and Elfrid Payton.
There are two notable and glaring omissions from the Knicks' failed free agent attempts. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. There was heightened speculation around the All-Star Break that the two would team up in some capacity. And the two did team-up. And the two signed In New York, for the Nets.
In recent history, the Nets have acquired a number of stars including, Vince Carter, Deron Williams, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, notably all by trade. Although within a stone's throw of lower Manhattan, Brooklyn didn't quite get the same headlines or notoriety as the New York Knicks or Los Angeles Lakers when it came to potential offseason signings. Similar to the Los Angeles Clippers who played in the shadow of the aforementioned Lakers, the Nets didn't seem to be in the same discussion as the Knicks when it came to alluring stars.
The Clippers, of course, had their own offseason achievements.
On July 7, 2019 we saw the balance shift from the Knicks to the Nets. Through a sign and trade, Durant joined Irving to make the franchise instant title contenders. The Knicks were looking to build from the bottom up, with a star they attained in the draft and young pieces to grow with him. Meanwhile, the Nets decided they needed to win immediately. The biggest hurdle appear s to be Durant's health.
After some rumors that Durant might make a return late in the season, Nets General Manager Sean Marks quickly ended the thought saying:
"I think what we're going to say is the expectations are that he will be out for the year. We're not going to plan on playing (him). His rehab will obviously be predetermined over the course of the next few months - how he goes with our performance team and so forth. But ultimately, Kevin will have a large say in when he comes back and how he's feeling."
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Translation, unless the Nets have an unexpected and exponential rise, their first real shot to compete for a title will be in the 2020-21 NBA Season. This timeline might allow the Knicks to close the gap and the progress that both teams make during the next 82 games will be a foundation for what to expect in the future. We were all set to examine the players and teams based on what was happening on the court. Then Durant threw a match into the fire. The Two-Time Finals MVP, asked about his decision to join Brooklyn rather than New York, responded with:
"I think a lot of fans look at the Knicks as a brand and expect these younger players who, in their lifetime, don't remember the Knicks being good," Durant said. "... I've seen the Knicks in the Finals, but kids coming up after me didn't see that. That whole brand of the Knicks to them is not as cool as let's say the Golden State Warriors or even the Lakers or the Nets now. The cool thing right now is not the Knicks."
Now the Knicks and Nets may have an in-state rivalry. Only time will tell if the instant mix of stars can bring Brooklyn the success of the 2012-14 Miami Heat or if the Knicks' draft strategy can mirror the Warriors' recent success. It's symbolic of the millennial generation's "gotta have it now" approach juxtaposed with the "let's wait and see" mantra.
Only one of these teams can be crowned champion at a time, the question is who gets it first. Like the classic tortoise and hare, the Nets appear to have the early lead, but the Knicks are moving in the right direction.
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