Nets Teaching Knicks A Thing Or Two About Rebuilding

Los Angeles Lakers, D'Angelo Russell
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The Brooklyn Nets are undoubtedly the little brother when it comes to basketball in New York City and their mid-town rival, the New York Knicks.

On one hand, it makes sense. The Nets had previously called a variety of places home – most notable East Rutherford and Newark, New Jersey – but none of which were actually in New York before their Jay Z-speared move to Brooklyn in 2012.

The Knicks, meanwhile, have been a staple of the New York sports diet for over 75 years. Sports fandom is often generational and the orange and blue are woven into the DNA of most New Yorkers.

On the other hand… you can’t really find me a basketball reason for the Nets popularity woes. Since their move to Brooklyn, the Nets have combined to go 172-238. The Knicks over that same time period? 171-239, virtually the same.

Neither of those records are even close to positive and over the span of the past three years, both franchises have dwelled deep at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Perhaps simply not being any good has been Brooklyn’s biggest struggle in their struggle for New York superiority, while simultaneously keeping the similarly-terrible Knicks within striking distance.

I mean, could you imagine if the Knicks had won a title over the past few years? Who would care about the Nets, your ABA-loving Grandpa that lives on Flatbush? Even he’d probably be at the Knicks parade.

We’re a long way away from any parade discussion though when it comes to professional basketball in New York. For all the bravado about a potential Knicks-Nets rivalry five years ago, both teams are now firmly in rebuild mode.

The Knicks are finally under new management in the form of president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry after firing Phil Jackson earlier this offseason, kickstarting the… fifth (I’ve honestly lost track at this point) rebuild at the Garden since Patrick Ewing left it. They have pieces, the biggest of which is the potential of Kristaps Porzingis and Willy Hernangomez, a young coach open to playing modern basketball in Jeff Hornacek and a genuine star in Carmelo Anthony.

Still, though, there are major holes facing the Knicks moving forward. Frank Ntilikina is an exciting prospect, but not one that seems to be connecting with fans, largely due to his lack of play. The seventh overall pick sat out for New York’s Summer League season and while he’s expected to be ready to go for the Knicks’ season opener, his silence has been deafening, especially when it comes in direct contrast to the eye-popping dunks fellow rookie Dennis Smith Jr has been throwing down on Twitter lately.

New York fans are famous for their impatience, but after over a decade of embarrassing antics, both on the court and off it, they mostly just want to get it right at this point. Would it be nice to have a prospect with the obvious athletic ability of a DSJ, and should the Knicks have probably fired Jackson before drafting Frank so it would be easier to have a plan for the future? Yes. But that doesn’t really mean the Frank pick is wrong, it just means we don’t know what it is yet. Woah, almost like these things take time to play out!

Regardless of how Ntilikina turns out, the Knicks future will largely be dependent on how this new regime handles the Carmelo Anthony trade situation. Make the wrong trade and Mills and Perry will likely be out in four-ish years and we’ll be hitting the restart button for the sixth time since Ewing’s departure. That’s just how things go in the NBA.

Every day that passes without Melo being shipped to either Houston or Cleveland makes it more likely he’ll be back in New York next season, a welcome victory for Knicks fans. Genuine stars are rare to come by and even tougher to get on your team. When you find one, they should be treasured, not thrown away for Moe Harkless and a late-lottery pick. If the Knicks were to trade Melo, it should be for an absolute steal of a player, if not they need to stay away and continue building around an Anthony-Porzingis nucleus.

Brooklyn meanwhile, has found the calm waters that seem to constantly evade the Knicks in the form of Sean Marks.

Brooklyn Nets General Manager, Sean Marks

Marks, a former Popovich/Buford disciple in San Antonio turned GM of the Nets, took the reigns in 2016, inheriting one of the worst-run franchises in pro sports.

No first round draft picks through next offseason, an injury-prone and out-of-date superstar in Brook Lopez and the expectation of failure are what Marks was greeted by when he took over in Brooklyn.

Thus far, Marks approach to the issues facing him has been simple – Get talent, no matter the cost. The results have been mixed.

Sure, the Nets have won only 41 games the past two seasons, by far the lowest number in the NBA. But the plan was to be bad anyway, so the focus has instead been on simply accumulating talent (or ‘assets’, for you Massholes) and worrying about the W’s later.

Jeremy Lin and head coach Kenny Atkinson came first, as well as substantial offer sheets to free agents Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe. Johnson and Crabbe both had their sheets matched by their former teams and went back to Miami and Portland respectively, but the intent by Marks was once again clear – Get players, worry about money later.

This offseason, they doubled down on that theory, sending Lopez to Los Angeles in exchange for 21-year-old former second overall pick D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov’s brutal $64 million contract that runs through 2020. Soon after, Andrew Nicholson was sent to the Trail Blazers in exchange for Crabbe. In the span of one summer, Marks had acquired a player with star potential, as well as a few of the pieces that can surround that star.

At the very least, the Nets have a direction- play an exciting, modern brand of basketball centered around the playmaking ability of Russell that will be opened up thanks to the shooting and spacing provided by Lin, Crabbe, and others.

Sending a certified star out of town in exchange for a high-upside, young player that the roster can be built around is the exact type of deal the Knicks have been looking for in their Carmelo Anthony talks, yet have been unable to find.

Marks and the Nets showed an amount of patience rarely found in today’s NBA front offices in their handlings of their rebuild. While it may feel like Brooklyn is moving at light-speed, their pace is far different than other franchises, especially the Knicks.

Lopez’s trade value, while dwindling in the modern NBA, is still fairly high and it would have been easy for Marks to immediately hunt a trade involving him right after taking over as GM. Take the first trade you can get for a couple first rounders and try your luck in the absolute crapshoot known as the NBA Draft. You know, turn over a new leaf, start a new page, whatever apology you feel like putting here.

Marks’ willingness to be absolutely irrelevant for two years or possibly, even more, is something his cross-town rivals absolutely need to be paying attention to. The first deal is almost never the best deal, and while Brooklyn is still years away from being a contender, they’re proving exactly why patience is a virtue.


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