While the Brooklyn Nets may have managed a 2-2 series draw against the New York Knicks in 2015-2016 (capped off by their miserable fourth quarter last night), their cross-river rivals have won 10 more games than them this year. The Nets, following the dismissal of Deron Williams over the summer, were expected to take a step back despite locking themselves into the 8th and final playoff spot on the season’s last day in 2015. In turn, the Knicks drafted the Latvian-rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis, signed Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez, and were confident that second-year head coach Derek Fisher could help them take the next step.
As of today, however, the two franchises are cellar-dwellers and sit in 13th and 14th place, both only ahead of the lowly Philadelphia 76ers (whom the Nets have given 2 of their paltry 9 wins to). While just three games separate the Knicks from 10th place, this season has been tremendously frustrating for both sides as they just try to keep their heads afloat.
Many believed that the Knicks would be the first to burst back onto the Eastern Conference scene, but the two franchises seem closer than ever. Both teams fired their head coach this season, own no first-round pick in 2016, and employ a 7 foot Lopez twin — how much more do you need? But given the Nets’ so-called “bridge year” taking an massive acceleration once Sean Marks was appointed general manager, that ever-lasting question is just begging to be asked again:
Which side is better suited for the future: Brooklyn or Manhattan?
To answer such an important question (and one that only fans in New York will care and/or appreciate), we’ll need to break this down into categories: frontcourt, backcourt, bench, pieces + picks, and the front office. Only then can we safety proclaim which floundering franchise is most likely to succeed (ahem, make the playoffs again) first.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Thaddeus Young, and Brook Lopez vs. Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, and Robin Lopez
Here we actually see more similarities than not: one athletic rookie each and, of course, the Lopez twins. Much of this decision hinges on Carmelo Anthony and his health and age. Specifically. Anthony, who is currently averaging just 22 points per game, his lowest mark since 2004-2005, is dangerously close to becoming an albatross contract. The superstar is signed through 2018-2019 and while rumors never seem to stop with Anthony, this could look like a bad contract in three more years. However, with the game on the line, you’d have to like your chances with Anthony above all else on this list.
Elsewhere, we have Porzingis, the once-booed man that has made believers out of Manhattan, and Hollis-Jefferson. While Hollis-Jefferson may be one of Brooklyn’s best perimeter defenders in… well, ever, Porzingis is still the likely runner-up for Rookie of the Year. Averaging 14.3 and 7.3, he offensively provides much more than Hollis-Jefferson, but if you’ve subjected yourself to Nets games all season, you know how much he changes things defensively for this weak side.
As we saw in last night’s finale, Brook is still the far superior Lopez (even when he struggles), but you can’t sleep on Robin’s rim protection and his fit alongside Anthony and Porzingis. Undoubtedly, the frontcourts make up most of the positives for both franchises — but while Anthony brings the superstar qualities, his looming contract brings this down to a wash.
Shane Larkin and Bojan Bogdanovic vs. Jose Calderon and Arron Afflalo
In anti-Drake fashion, we just went from 100 to 0, real quick.
Although Bogdanovic has had certain bursts of seriously good basketball (44 for 44, remember?), he’s also been one of Brooklyn’s most puzzling players all year. Here one game, gone the next, Bogdanovic floated through the first half of the season as he often took a backseat to Joe Johnson on offense. His when-everybody-is-healthy backcourt partner-in-crime (Hollis-Jefferson missed 50 games) is Larkin — a man that sources say will likely opt out this summer anyways.
Who knows if the Nets will keep Donald Sloan, but with just one premier point guard hitting the market this summer (Memphis’ Mike Conley) and no draft picks to groom their own, there’s a good chance he could stick around. For the Knicks, they’ve got their own problem with a potential opt-out, as things with Arron Afflalo and interim head coach Kurt Rambis hit rock bottom over the last week. Barring any change of heart, and we’re not expecting one based on his recent Instagram, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Markel Brown, Sean Kilpatrick, Thomas Robinson vs. Jerian Grant, Derrick Williams, Langston Galloway
Where to even begin here? We’ve got two undrafted guards in Kilpatrick and Galloway, two reclamation projects with Robinson and Williams, and two young draft picks that haven’t figured out their place in the league in Brown and Grant. Of note, Kilpatrick has the longest contract of the bunch and Brown (RFA), Robinson (PO), and Williams (PO), could all be gone this summer as well. As Nets fans know all too well, Williams has the ability to ignite in seconds and his 8.9 average is the second-highest of his career, only behind his 2012-2013 mark (12.0). The former #2 overall pick dropped 31 points on the Nets in January and has been New York’s most reliable spark plug off the bench.
Kilpatrick has scored 10+ in 11 of his last 12 games, settling into the Nets’ 6th Man role far quicker than anyone could’ve imagined. The undrafted D-League stud was one of Sean Marks’ first moves as general manager and it already feels like they’ve found a diamond in the rough. Surprisingly enough, the Knicks and Nets average 36.2 and 35.9 bench points per game, good for 9th and 12th in the league respectively. Much of that comes with the starting lineup’s inconsistencies on both sides, but it’s safe to say that neither bench unit is up to snuff for a legitimate playoff contender.
In bursts, Robinson has shown that he can provide some valuable minutes (14/13/5 steals last night), but with Chris McCullough waiting in the wings and, of course, Thaddeus Young still deputizing the position, it’s unlikely that he’ll be back. Grant, the other rookie in New York has failed to unseat 34 year-old Jose Calderon, although Rambis, who had to be asked this week by his veterans to play the kids more, deserves some of that blame.
Picks + Pieces:
First things first: let’s agree that this area is currently in dismal shape for both sides. As mentioned, neither has a first rounder in 2016 and the Nets’ pick situation is rough well into the immediate future. Although both teams have shown a willingness to take chances (Brown, Early, Antetokounmpo, Karasev), make trades for picks (Hollis-Jefferson), and dip into the undrafted pool of free agents (Kilpatrick, Galloway), it’s certainly tough to swallow the fact that the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets own their would-be high picks in a deep draft.
In all honestly, this is a rather easy category, even with the Nets’ summer cap space and Hollis-Jefferson included — the Knicks have Porzingis and the Nets do not. Porzingis truly looks like a special player and one that may re-revolutionize the entire face of New York basketball. Certainly, Marks has his work cut out for him in convincing the likes of Nicolas Batum, Mike Conley, or DeMar DeRozan to leave their peachy situations for the one in Brooklyn, but they could make a splash this summer.
Beware, however, another Johan Petro-esque summer — for the fans, that would be devastating.
Tony Brown, Sean Marks, and Mikhail Prokhorov vs. Kurt Rambis, Phil Jackson, and James Dolan
Here’s where it gets interesting:
There’s a fair chance that neither Tony Brown nor Kurt Rambis will be in a head coaching position come next fall, so it’s tough to evaluate the position in their limited roles. However, with the Nets eyeing potential candidates like Ettore Messina and David Blatt and the Knicks floating the idea of a strange Rambis/Jackson home and away combo at the helm, we’ll have to sway in the direction of Brooklyn on this one.
Furthermore, once Marks took over, Brown swiftly begun the process of sitting Young, Lopez, and Bogdanovic in order to get better looks at auditioning players like Larkin, Robinson, Karasev, and M. Brown. In New York, Galloway, Grant, and others were stuck on the bench in a lost season until the aforementioned meeting with Rambis for more minutes. At this point, Brown certainly earns the edge there as well.
The pedigrees of Jackson and Marks do not need repeating — but it will be interesting to see which achieves their vision first. Jackson, for all intents and purposes, achieved his only main goal as Knicks’ general manager by convincing Anthony to re-sign in 2014. However, the Kyle O’Quinn and Afflalo signings haven’t worked out well and with rumors swirling that Anthony may prefer to end his career alongside the likes of LeBron James and Chris Paul, things could get dicey for the legend.
As for the owners, would it just be better to call them both certifiably insane and move on? From Dolan’s undying love for Isiah Thomas and affinity for music to Prokhorov’s bouncing balls act, penchant for the lofty written word, and even grander expectations, there’s reason to believe that both are just living out their fantasies with little-to-no repercussions. Dolan’s track record speaks for itself: Amar’e Stoudemire, Jerome James, Allan Houston, etc; but Prokhorov has a long way to go before he proves that he’s not just an owner with limitless pockets willing to trade the future for a fleeting half-chance.
However, with Marks now in-house and all his Spurs knowledge and connections in tow, we’re backing the Nets’ front office on this one.
It’s a draw again! At the end of the day, the both franchises are far, far away from contending even in their own division. With some important off-seasons looming (will the Nets make a splash? Does Anthony want to leave?), it’s too close to separate these suffering sides. However, Marks offers an optimistic future for Brooklyn, once born and raised within the Spurs’ organization. If he brings in Messina or Blatt and the Nets added a solid piece in free agency, things may shape up earlier rather than later.
Unfortunately, the salary cap is rising league-wide and it still wouldn’t be surprising to see both whiff once more. For all their posturing, counter-arguing, and competition, the Nets and Knicks are still neck-and-neck at square zero and far, far away from the playoffs much less a deep run. In another battle of the boroughs, we’ve got another listless, bleak tie — but, at least now the organizations have Marks and Porzingis to pin their hopes on.