The Blueprint for Greatness
Despite finishing among the league’s worst teams the past few season, a very interesting thing developed within the Nets organization. They would be engaged in a bitter rivalry with the soon to be city-sharing New York Knicks, whether the Knicks were looking for a rivalry or not.
With the Nets now free to move into Brooklyn without having to pay any geographic territorial fees to the Knicks (like what happened after the ABA merger in the 1970s), there was little for James Dolan and the Knicks to do except sit back, grumble and see if this move actually happened. The move to the intersection of Atlantic and Pacific had so many start-stops due to lawsuits, problems with architects, etc. that the Dolan family had to be chuckling at the Nets perceived incompetence, despite dealing with their own image problems stemming from their bizarre loyalty to the likes of Isaiah Thomas and Stephon Marbury. But ground was eventually broken for the Barclays Center in 2010 and the arrival of Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov as the new owner of the Nets would signal the “Battle of the Billionaires” that would traverse more land than initially expected.
It started with a simple declaration from Prokhorov – the desire to turn Knicks fans into Nets fans once the team had settled into Brooklyn. But with a roster of castoffs and never-weres, how was that possible? While Knicks fans studied every one of Lebron James’ bowel movements in an effort to confirm their beliefs that he was destined to come to the Knicks (he’s wearing a Yankees hat! He’s making “The Decision” from a Boys and Girls Club in nearby Greenwich! Da MECCAH!), the Nets fired an even splashier shot across the bow – putting up a huge building-side billboard near the Knicks corporate offices in midtown featuring Prokhorov and minority-owner Jay-Z with the words “Blueprint for Greatness.” Dolan reportedly wanted the poster taken down. The Knicks and Nets both made their pitches to LeBron. Reports out of Knicks-camp was that LeBron was more put off by the elderly Donnie Walsh in a wheelchair, while the Nets came in with a reportedly more contemporary sales pitch in order to appeal to a 20-something mega-star. Of course LeBron took his talents to South Beach, but a clear message was sent – the Nets were not going to stand idly by and watch the Knicks make themselves richer without a fight.
The rivalry for a player’s affections would resume months later when the Denver Nuggets made Carmelo Anthony available on the trade market. Like LeBron, the Knicks community believed there was no way ‘Melo would not end up a Knick. He idolized former Knicks legend (who also played with the Nets) Bernard King for crying out loud. He was best friends with Amare Stoudemire. Yet the Nets continually had the better package of prospects, draft picks and cap relief to offer Denver. A deal was nearly consummated multiple times (sparking the phrase, “Melodrama”). But there was always one major sticking point – ‘Melo wanted the Knicks and was rumored to not want to sign a contract extension to play one season in New Jersey and then wait for greener pastures in Brooklyn.
Yet the Nets continued their pursuit, despite the cries from many fans (including many who worked on this site’s predecessor). Was it all an elaborate bluff? We’ll never know for sure, but the Knicks ended up trading away every potential trade asset they had to land ‘Melo while the Nets, believed to be spurned and heading to nowhere again, turned to the Utah Jazz to land Deron Williams a fraction of what they would have ended up paying to get Anthony.
‘Melo and Stoudemire struggled together, while the Nets were positioned to pair up Dwight Howard with DWill. Of course Dwight’s favorite candies and the Lakers blew that plan up, but the Nets still ended up doing what they originally set out to do – build a roster of quality players in time for the inaugural season in Brooklyn. DWill was resigned and Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace were acquired. Lopez, once believed to be the key trade chip for Howard, was retained. A Bench Mob was formed. The Knicks let their fan favorite point guard Jeremy Lin — whose limelight started in his first game against the Nets, and who got most embarrassed in his second game against the Nets, as Deron Williams torched him for eight threes and 38 points in a blowout — go in favor of Raymond Felton and former Nets superstar Jason Kidd. The lines appeared to be drawn. If not for a devastating superstorm that wiped out entire neighborhoods in the tri-state area and shut down the bulk of New York City for the better part of a week in late October, this first match-up of the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks would have been played by now. This rivalry would finally be turned up to 11. Now we’re here.
As the Grateful Dead (and Bill Walton) said, “what a long, strange trip it’s been.”
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