Can Deron Williams and the Brooklyn Nets usurp the New York Knicks as the city's favorite team?
After the offseason, you could have made a valid argument that fans would flock to either of the two teams.
Heading into this season, Brooklyn was the hot thing in town. Jay-Z was out and about hyping the Nets. The Barclays Center instantly stood out as an entertainment hub in a city full of them. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson made for an attractive new backcourt.
That said, all the branding in the world could not make up for a roster generally lacking in charisma.
Over in Manhattan, the old guard was on uneasy footing. Fans were still wary of the Carmelo Anthony/Amar'e Stoudemire combo, especially after Jeremy Lin's controversial exit in free agency, which renewed the uproar over James Dolan's ownership.
Mike Woodson did rejuvenate the team with an old-school attitude, though, and fan-favorites Raymond Felton, Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas were back to back it up. Fielding a high-profile 90s throwback in Madison Square Garden is a pretty good way to keep your fans invested.
So the situation was by no means a disaster for the Knicks, but the Nets probably did seem like the more appealing team to a fan on the fence. Heading into the season, it really boiled down to how these two teams looked coming out of the gate.
The Nets have played well enough to be over .500 early on, but growing pains and a soft schedule have somewhat tempered the enthusiasm in Brooklyn. There's still a buzz about the idea of basketball at the Barclays Center, but the Nets could still stand to provide some more excitement with their play itself.
However, there would perhaps be more people cheering for Brooklyn if the Knicks weren't currently the toast of the town. 'Melo and J.R. Smith are exerting their wills, the guards are raining three-pointers and Rasheed Wallace has joined the team.
Out of nowhere, the New York Knicks are suddenly a hustling, likable bunch, and they're off to their best start since 1993.
Since New York is surging and the new-team shine is coming off the apple in Brooklyn, do the Knicks actually have to worry at all about defecting fans?
Well, yes, at least for now. Knicks fans have a lot of history with their team, and, unfortunately, much of it has taught them to take good fortune with multiple grains of salt. For more details, see everything that has happened since New York's 1999 NBA Finals appearance.
Until this scorching start turns into sustained success, there will always be the worry in the back of Knicks fans' minds that they're about to wake up from their dream season. 'Melo and Amar'e could clash. The threes could stop falling. The NBA's oldest roster ever could break down, shattering any championship aspirations along with it.
There's two sides to any fan exodus, though.
Unless Brooklyn shows some championship potential, it's not going to siphon off any fans from the Knicks. Williams and Brook Lopez have both played well so far, but Johnson has struggled early on.
The Nets need Johnson to play at an All-Star level if they want to make their presence felt. If not, they're left with just two reliable scorers and a patchy defense. Not exactly the best formula for drawing a crowd.
If Johnson bounces back and Brooklyn gets on a roll, then things get interesting.
Say the Nets head into the trade deadline in the top five of the Eastern Conference, while an imploding Knicks team once again has to fight for a playoff spot. Mikhail Prokhorov would be compelled to pick up another piece in pursuit of a title. That would put the onus on James Dolan to match the Nets as well as right the ship—and that's a volatile situation.
This is James Dolan—a man who found a way to give cable companies an even worse reputation. It's difficult as an owner to be reviled for being so willing to spend, but he has somehow pulled that off, too. From Eddy Curry's acquisition to Jeremy Lin's departure, Dolan's meddling in player-personnel affairs invariably results in the alienation of his fanbase.
Back to our hypothetical trade deadline. With his team floundering and his back against the wall, Dolan would be required to make a move. Unless the Knicks showed marked improvement from that point on, he would also draw a great deal of flak for squandering not only this season, but essentially the entirety of the 'Melo/Amar'e era in New York.
Can the Nets surpass the Knicks as the most popular team in New York?
At that point, with the Nets inching towards elite status and the Knicks hurtling into another rebuilding phase, a fan exodus would commence.
On the bright side, while the Knicks' undefeated record is by no means sustainable, a lot of the keys to their success are. New York seems to have embraced defense and effort as its identity once again. With the talent and experience at hand, that's a sound formula for winning games.
There was a chance that the Nets would come into Brooklyn and take the city by storm, but the way the Knicks have played has all but quashed that possibility. Unless Brooklyn shows some more promise and New York more or less collapses, Knicks fans aren't jumping ship anytime soon.