So much to write about, so little time. As tempting as it is to dig deeper into the New York Mets bullpen woes, or the fact that the hapless Mets somehow managed to tarnish yesterday’s 50-year Miracle Mets anniversary celebration by declaring two of the squad’s former players dead before their time, there’s really only one direction to go today.
And that’s to Brooklyn.
Give the Nets credit.
They are going for it, and they just signed two of the marquee names available in free agency (we are going with the broadly accepted assumption that Kyrie Irving signs with the Nets as well). Coupled with the strong core that earned the Nets 42 wins and a surprise playoff visit last season, and there is enthusiasm bubbling over out in the borough.
All the sweeter for the Brooklyn basketball franchise has to be the fact that these signings of Kevin Durant and Kyrie (with recent Knick DeAndre Jordan thrown in for good measure) spit right in the eye of their big brother franchise across the East River. The Knicks openly expressed interest in these two stars (it was way more than interest, it was almost a smug wink and nod that these two starts would soon be theirs), and not long ago were roundly considered front-runners to land the duo.
So in the course of one Sunday afternoon, the Nets have inserted themselves into the wide open 2019-20 NBA title contender conversation, while dealing a right cross across the jaw of the cursed Knickerbockers, who have owned New York City hoops fans’ hearts forever, even while the team has stunk up MSG for the better part of the last 19 years.
In fact, the sorry state of the Knickerbocker franchise has allowed the Nets to regroup a little of their own questionable mojo under new ownership, with a capable GM and head coach showing how title contenders and culture can be built to last. The Knicks are so dysfunctional on every level, beginning with the worst owner in professional sports and continuing through the overmatched front office and right down to the head coach who seems more interested in positive PR than winning games, that the Nets can fly below the radar while rebuilding from the ground up. Yes, the Knicks are the definition of a train wreck in a city loaded with contenders for such a title.
However, here’s my question: Can we really trust the Nets just yet?
Lest we forget, the Nets are not exactly the paradigm of a high-functioning sports franchise. In fact, it was only six years ago when the franchise badly crippled itself with the draft night deal that landed them Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry from Boston in exchange for, well, in exchange for the future of their franchise. The Celtics have ridden that deal to the top of the league since, benefitting from the implosion in Brooklyn and the resulting high draft picks they received in the Garnett fleecing.
Now barely emerging from that soul-crushing deal, a winning culture starting to appear with a selfless and team-first system made up of young, athletic no-names, the Nets have taken this monumental step. And this week’s SportsAttic Three Point Play will point out a few reasons for caution on the way to the victory parade undoubtedly being planned for a year or two from now over in Brooklyn.
- They traded Dr. J. It hasn’t reached “selling Babe Ruth” curse proportions just yet, but let’s think about this one for a minute. We (okay, I) bemoan how the Knicks haven’t won an NBA title since 1972-73, but what about the Nets? They’ve been in The Association 42 years and they possess zero titles. And they sold the one chip that had forced the ABA-NBA manager back in 1976, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, ushering in a series of unwatchable rosters that welcomed the Nets to the NBA and set a tone of ineptitude that lingers to this day. In fact, if not for the gold standard daily dumpster fire across the river stealing all the thunder, we’d probably spend more time lamenting how the Nets have been synonymous with losing dating back to their entry into the league.
- “Woop-de-damn-do!” Perhaps my favorite NBA quote, from the inimitable Derrick Coleman, back when the Nets were tricking us into thinking they could become consistent contenders (for what seems like the umpteenth time as we reflect back on how often this sort of tease played out in Nets-land). Of course the genesis of the famous Coleman quote took place when former first-round pick Yinka Dare (remember him?) walked innocently into the Nets locker room one afternoon to prepare for the night’s game. Dare was greeted by then-Nets captain Kenny Anderson, with “What up, Stinka.” The following day Coleman quizzed a reporter as to why Kenny’s insult of Dare was such a big story, and was told it was because Anderson was team captain. Coleman considered that response briefly, and then made his historic statement. Those were the New Jersey Nets of the early-’90’s.
- The RAC. For those of you outside the New York metropolitan area, The RAC stands for Rutgers Athletic Center. It’s where the Nets played their home games for four years after abandoning Long Island and the Nassau Coliseum, only the home to their two ABA Championship teams and tens of thousands of diehard hoops fans who loved the Nets (in fact, the Nets headed to the NBA in 1976 coming off seasons of 55, 58 and 55 wins respectively, plus the two titles). So to reward their loyal fans upon their entry into the NBA, the Nets immediately sent Dr. J down the New Jersey Turnpike to the 76ers, proceeded to lose 60 games with the likes of Bubbles Hawkins as their go-to scorer, and then left town, heading to a below-par, college arena in central Jersey. Thus began the era of the New Jersey Nets.
So let’s hold off on that parade for just a few minutes now, can we?
As exciting as these signings seem today in the heat of the moment, let’s remember a few things:
*KD won’t play next year, and when he returns in year two of his deal, he’ll be 32 years old and coming off an achilles rehab. This will not be the guy we last saw lighting up the 2019 playoffs for the Warriors.
*Kyrie remains perhaps the biggest poison to a locker room this side of Chris Paul. He will be displacing D’Angelo Russell, who could very well prove to be the superior player over the next couple of years. And oh yeah, have we mentioned that Kyrie is injury prone?
*There will still only be one basketball in play at a time in Brooklyn per NBA rules, so one must wonder what the ball-dominant style of Irving will do to the development of all those young pieces the Nets have so skillfully assembled over the last couple of years.
Okay, maybe this is Knicks bitterness speaking, but I’m actually a bit relieved that the Knicks didn’t end up with KD or Kyrie. The potential for the bad outcomes mentioned above would have been stone cold locks had the two free agents donned the blue and orange at MSG.
At least the Nets have a strong chance for relevance and contention now. It is an optimistic time in Brooklyn, and everyone from the new owner to GM Sean Marks to head coach Kenny Atkinson seem professional and high caliber. Will the Nets be contenders by 2020-21?
Only time will tell, but let’s just close with the reminder that New York boasts not one, but two, NBA franchises with checkered histories.