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Change the logo, name, colors and location of what was a historically underachieving franchise, and you always get the same thing in year one – a fantasy that all the pain of the past few years will be erased, and that invisible switch will be flipped the second that ground is broken for the new venue.
And then, most of the time, reality comes crashing down harder than Tim Duncan’s dunk over Serge Ibaka during the Spurs home opener on Thursday night. That’s usually why it’s called a fantasy.
But in the case of the new-look Brooklyn Nets, who have finally ended what was, for the most part, a miserable 35 year NBA residency period in New Jersey, people who have had high expectations for them going back to the moment they locked up one of the league’s elite point guards in Deron Williams this summer will not be asked if they also believed in Bigfoot at season’s end.
Once the Nets were able to retain Williams, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez, and also acquire Joe Johnson during the offseason, they established one of the more formidable starting lineups in the Eastern Conference. Second year man Marshon Brooks, whose name was thrown into essentially every trade rumor the team was involved in the past few months, has the potential to make up for the lack of bench depth similar to the way James Harden did for the Oklahoma City Thunder the past few seasons.
Only one thing matters in the Empire State, though. Will they be better than a Knicks team who has suddenly resurged the last two seasons by making back-to-back postseason appearances following a six year playoff absence?
Could a team that went 22-44 last year – not to mention a mind-blowing 12-70 two years prior – possibly take control of a town that saw its team finish with the seventh best record in the conference last season?
Yes. They can and they will in 2012-2013.
This wouldn’t have been the case had the Knicks actually made upgrades this offseason. While the Nets went out and got a star in Johnson and retained their more than solid core filled with both youth and veteran leadership, the Knicks for some reason decided to make additions that would literally make them the oldest team in NBA history. Stamina will not be their best friend, to say the least.
Given the terrible reputation the Knicks front office has earned over the last decade or so, it’s hard to imagine that their signings of 38-year-old Rasheed Wallace off the street, 39-year-old Jason Kidd, 38-year-old Marcus Camby, 35-year-old Argentinian Pablo Prigioni and 40-year-old Kurt Thomas will end up looking like genius moves throughout the year.
When it isn’t about bringing in a bunch of guys who most New Yorkers didn’t even know were still playing – or trying to get back into the league in the case of Wallace – there are three other glaring issues taking place at Madison Square Garden.
You may or may not have heard of this one player named Jeremy Lin last spring. He sort of took the league, and the world, for that matter, by storm. Linsanity had its run and ended well before the 2011-2012 season did, but losing Lin in restricted free agency to his previous team, the Houston Rockets still has Knicks fans wondering why their ownership group hates them.
Then there’s Amar’e Stoudemire, who is expected to miss at least six weeks to begin the season with yet another injury. Seems as though he’s spent almost half of his Knicks career on the bench with some sort of ailment – even self-inflicted ones like the infamous punching of the fire extinguisher door against Miami during last year’s playoffs. Stoudemire’s had more than his fair share of ups and downs on the court as well during his time in a Knicks uniform, but the team is certainly much better off with him than without him.
Finally, there is Carmelo Anthony. Despite being a flat-out superstar who can get his basically whenever he chooses to do so, he’s been a major source of stress since joining the Knicks a season and a half ago. Anthony tends to murder ball movement the moment he touches it, and even though he claimed on media day that he’s willing to sacrifice his scoring for the sake and benefit of the team, we have no other choice than to believe it when we see it.
The Knicks will still be a solid team in all likelihood, but their combination of unanswered questions along with multiple head-scratching signings will not allow them to be the alpha dog in New York when there’s a Nets team in Brooklyn that’s as hungry and as talented as they’ve been in a long time.