(Long Island, N.Y.) For decades on end, the Nets were a non-entity throughout the National Basketball Association – even in their own backyard. The team that was one of the staple (and few stable) franchises of the old ABA had become a running joke as they toiled in the state of New Jersey and could not even sell out home games when they made the NBA Finals.
But what once seemed like a pipedream to build an arena in downtown Brooklyn and move the vagabond club to the site where Walter O’Malley wanted for a new Ebbetts Field did in fact come true and now the team, town and entire league are reaping the benefits.
All except for the Knicks, that is.
One game does not dictate the entire future, but the handwriting was already on the wall that the arena and team in the Borough of Churches was going to cut into the semi-monopoly that the Knicks had enjoyed. So take the 96-89 Nets win on Monday night at the Barclay’s Center as an aberration or a microcosm of what’s in store for both organizations.
Before the baton is unofficially passed, the Knicks will surely have something to say about that. They have put together a veteran-laden roster that screams of ‘win now’ and they hope to improve on their two consecutive first round playoff ousters in 2012-13.
The Nets? Although they may not publicly admit it, a ‘one-and-done’ postseason would be a nice step in the right direction. The Eastern Conference is one that is top heavy and ripe for the picking as far as the bottom four of the playoff-bound eight teams go. For the Nets to have an above .500 campaign and host at least one playoff game in their inaugural season in Flatbush, then they are on par with what the Knicks accomplished two years ago. (Hey, things don’t drastically change overnight.)
Midtown Manhattan was abuzz during the playoffs the last two springs and that has jumpstarted the Knicks into one of the most spoken about teams during the offseason. Now that they have started off playing well, it has intensified. The Nets garnered immediate attention because of the move, but also because the front office made some bold moves and attempted even bolder ones.
Re-signing point guard Deron Williams was the first and most important one. Inking him set the tone for what would eventually become a very successful turnover. The Nets did everything that could to make a deal for Dwight Howard, but did quite well for themselves with Joe Johnson as a consolation prize.
The former Atlanta Hawks guard has averaged over 15 points through the first 13 games of the season and Center Brook Lopez – who would have been a part of the trade for Howard – has played like an All-Star, averaging nearly 20 points a game.
So judging by the way that the two teams have came out of the starting gate (9-4, both sitting atop the Atlantic Division), the Nets may be a step or two ahead of the Knicks when it comes to gaining respectability and exposure. And the longer it goes like that, what was never really a rivalry will be a real one, indeed.