Basketball has been the only major sport with only one New York team. Baseball has had the Yankees and Mets. Football has had the Giants, Jets (even though they both technically play in New Jersey) and Bills. Hockey has had the Rangers, Islanders and Sabres.
The fan rivalries that have developed between each of those New York organizations is part of what makes each of those sports so great, and it brings plenty of media attention as well. In the NBA, though, it has always been just the Knicks. No other team could threaten to supplant them for state supremacy as, well, there were no other teams in New York.
Now, that is all about to change, as the Nets, formerly of New Jersey, have picked up and moved to Brooklyn, and owner Mikhail Prokhorov is serious about trying to take over the Big Apple. He has made tireless efforts to acquire Dwight Howard, and although he ultimately failed in that regard, he still managed to re-sign Deron Williams, trade for and then re-sign Gerald Wallace, re-sign Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries and swing a deal with the Atlanta Hawks for Joe Johnson.
It has certainly been a busy 2012 for the Nets, a team just itching to break into the national spotlight and, in doing so, take some of that light off of the Knicks.
However, New York's original basketball team has not been sitting idly by, either. The Knicks have signed Jason Kidd and completed sign-and-trades with the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers to bring back former Knicks Marcus Camby, Raymond Felton and Kurt Thomas. They lost Jeremy Lin due to the rather outrageous offer sheet that the Rockets signed him to, but looking up and down their roster, it's hard to imagine that they'll miss Lin too much this coming season.
So, the million dollar question is, which New York team is better? The Knicks or the Nets?
Well, let's break down both teams, beginning with their starting lineups and then delving into their benches.
Knicks: Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire
Nets: Lopez and Humphries
Edge: Knicks. Say what you want about Lopez's potential, but the fact of the matter is that he struggled mightily to stay healthy last year, even more so than Stoudemire. It's not like the injury to Lopez was anything minor, either. He had foot surgery, and just ask Yao Ming how debilitating foot injuries can be to a big man.
In terms of skill set, Lopez is certainly gifted in the low post and (if he stays healthy) should develop into a very reliable force offensively, but him not being able to rebound despite being a seven-footer is going to be a problem. During the 2010-11 campaign, before he began having the issue with his foot, Lopez averaged only 5.9 rebounds per game. Last year, albeit in only five contests, he averaged a paltry 3.6. That absolutely has to change.
The good news is that Lopez averaged over eight boards per game during his first two seasons in the league, so he has shown the ability to adequately rebound in the past. He just needs to rediscover said ability.
Fortunately for Brooklyn, Humphries, whom the team just signed to a two-year, $24 million contract, is strong on the class.
The bad news? He isn't much of a force defensively, and it's not like Lopez was ever known for his defense, either. I can easily see the better point guards in the league (such as Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook) carving up the Nets' interior.
This is why I like New York's frontcourt better.
The Knicks have a mixture of strong defense and strong offense from Chandler and Stoudemire, respectively, as Chandler is coming off of a season where he won Defensive Player of the Year honors and Stoudemire (when healthy) is one of the most prolific scoring big men in the game.
As much flack as Stoudemire took this past year for the whole fire extinguisher incident, he is still a good player, and along with Chandler, he makes New York's frontline stronger than Brooklyn's.
Knicks: Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith (will be Iman Shumpert when he recovers from ACL surgery)
Nets: Wallace and Johnson
Edge: Knicks. This one is tough, as the Nets have nice balance at the small forward and shooting guard positions with the defensive-minded Wallace and the offensively smooth Johnson. However, Anthony's presence in the Knicks lineup tips the scales, and Shumpert's looming return (possibly in January) really pushes this in favor of New York.
It's not like Smith is any slouch, either. Yes, his shot selection can be rather poor at times, but he is more than capable of having a big game, and he has actually developed into a rather solid defender.
As far as Brooklyn goes, it's not like it has merely mediocre players at the wing spots. It's just that the Knicks happen to have one of the best wings in the game in Anthony, and then, assuming he returns healthy, one of the league's up-and-coming premier defenders in Shumpert.
Wallace and Johnson are absolutely good players, although Johnson is probably worth only a fraction of that monstrous contract that the Hawks awarded him with two summers ago. Wallace's defensive prowess should also prove to be invaluable against 'Melo, as the man known as "Crash" is widely considered to be one of the better perimeter defenders in the NBA.
It is undoubtedly going to be very interesting to watch this pair of twos and threes go at it this season, especially with Johnson's recent boast that the Nets are New York's best team and Anthony's response to that statement.
All of that said, again, the fact that New York has Anthony and Brooklyn doesn't gives it the edge.
Edge: Nets. It shouldn't come as any kind of a surprise that this was the easiest category for me to determine which team has the edge, as the Nets have a perennial top-five floor general in Williams and the Knicks have just a better than average point guard in Felton.
I will say that this is a big year for Williams, though, as he has not exactly lit it up since becoming a member of Prokhorov's franchise. In 12 games for the Nets in 2011 (after coming over in the trade from the Utah Jazz), Williams shot a horrendous 34.9 percent from the floor. Yes, he averaged 12.8 assists per game, and that is a remarkable feat considering who was on his team at the time, but for a player of his stature (or for any player, for that matter), that shooting percentage is downright disgusting.
Then, in his first full season for the Nets (albeit a lockout-shortened one, but still) in 2012, Williams shot only 40.7 percent. He was able to average 21 points and 8.7 assists, but, again, that shooting percentage must improve, especially taking into account that he once shot over 50 percent during one of his seasons with the Jazz.
I expect Williams' efficiency to improve this coming year, as he now has a much better supporting cast surrounding him. If it doesn't, then I'm seriously going to begin to wonder whether or not Williams' best years are behind him, even if he is only 28 years old (a somewhat scary thing to note: Williams' shooting percentages have been trending downward ever since shooting 50.7 percent during the 2007-08 campaign).
Despite all of that, Williams remains one of the best point guards in the game.
Now for New York.
If you remember correctly, Felton was a member of the Knicks last season, but he was sent to the Denver Nuggets in the deal that landed New York Anthony. Felton played what was by far the best ball of his career with the Knicks, averaging 17.1 points and nine assists over the course of 54 games (his previous career highs in both categories were 14.4 and 7.4, both accomplished during the 2007-08 season). Maybe he just likes playing in New York?
The Knicks also grabbed future Hall-of-Famer Kidd in free agency, and his recent drunken driving incident aside, he should prove to be a nice veteran piece off the bench (more on that later).
Honestly, I feel this whole section was all much ado about nothing, as it's blatantly obvious who holds the edge here. Moving on...
Knicks: Smith (when Shumpert returns), Camby, Kidd, Steve Novak, Kurt Thomas, Pablo Prigioni, James White
Nets: MarShon Brooks, Reggie Evans, C.J. Watson, Mirza Teletovic, Jerry Stackhouse, Tyshawn Taylor
Edge: Knicks. It's funny. It looked like New York's bench was going to be rather abysmal this season, but then, the Knicks go out and sign Kidd and Camby and get Thomas back in the sign-and-trade with the Blazers. Now, New York's bench suddenly looks rather impressive.
Brooklyn's bench isn't exactly terrible, but it has a couple of unproven commodities in Teletovic (whom the Nets signed from Bosnia) and the rookie Taylor, not to mention a player way past his prime (and that is an understatement even with the italicized "way") in Stackhouse. Brooks is a very good scorer who could possibly contend for Sixth Man of the Year honors much like Jamal Crawford, Evans is an outstanding rebounder and Watson is a solid reserve guard.
Unless Teletovic exceeds expectations (my expectations, anyway) by being a big-time producer in his first year or Stackhouse somehow rediscovers the fountain of youth, the Knicks have the edge here. They have one of the better defenders and rebounders in the game coming off the pine in Camby, so when Chandler goes to the bench, New York's interior defense will not suffer all that much. Also, Kidd's veteran leadership could pay dividends, Novak's sharpshooting is invaluable and Thomas' tough-guy persona will bring some much-needed attitude to the Knicks.
As far as Prigioni goes, he is a 35-year-old point guard whom New York signed from Spain. Whether or not he gets much burn is anybody's guess, but the Knicks are pretty high on him, and it seems like they think he can step in and produce if needed.
White is an athletic freak who hasn't shown too much else since coming into the league in 2006. He actually hasn't played since 2009, either, so expecting him to do much of anything other than put down a couple of highlight reel dunks during blowouts is probably asking too much.
Finally, it is important to note that when Shumpert returns, Smith will be relegated to the sixth man role (unless the Knicks decide to keep Smith in the starting lineup and bring Shumpert off the bench), and he will obviously make New York's reserve that much more potent.
The Knicks bench could be what ultimately makes them a tough out in the playoffs this year. The depth could end up paying off big time. I give them the edge here.
And the Better Team Is...
I love how aggressive the Nets are being, and I like the fact that they are clearly trying to appease their fans by going out and making all of these moves, but I still think they are a step behind New York as a team. Maybe in a a couple of years it will be a different story, but as of right now, New York still belongs to the Knicks.
I expect both of these teams to make the playoffs, and who knows, we might end up seeing a first-round showdown between these two soon-to-be rivals.
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