Now that the summer has ended and the cool air hints of another great NBA season to come, things just keep getting hotter and hotter in the two biggest basketball boroughs around.
The latest bombshell, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News, incredulously sees Glen Grunwald, the general manager who oversaw the Knicks’ best regular season in 16 years and best postseason in 13, out the door, replaced by the frightening Steve Mills of the Isiah Thomas lost decade.
Before that, the league fanned the flames by announcing that the 2015 NBA All-Star Weekend will be shared between the Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden, with the former holding the Friday and Saturday games and contests and the Garden holding the All-Star Game on Sunday.
This prompted some one-upmanship between Knicks owner James Dolan and Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, as reported by USA Today’s Paul Myerberg:
We are extremely proud that Madison Square Garden has been chosen to host the NBA All-Star Game [said Dolan]. To our friends in Brooklyn, we're looking forward to giving our rivalry a rest—for a little bit—to ensure that we deliver the very best All-Star Game experience the league has ever held.
Prokhorov’s retort reminded the Knicks this is a two-team town and again challenged Manhattan for basketball supremacy and legacy:
Brooklyn has produced some of the greatest players in NBA history, so it's fitting to hold All-Star events in the ‘Borough of Basketball’… and we are also excited to bring the All-Star Game to Barclays Center in the very near future.
Behind the gentle barbs, both owners and teams—and their superstar players—know the expectations of 2013-14 and that they’ll be burned at the media stake if they don’t succeed.
Short of that loftiness, the Nets' new lineup—Garnett, Pierce, a healthy Deron Williams, a rising Brook Lopez, a good-enough Joe Johnson and a strong bench led by Andrei Kirilenko, Andray Blatche, Reggie Evans and Jason Terry—is supposed to win at least 50 games, and is capable of winning 55 or more.
One thing’s for certain: The 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets are better than last year’s version. Giving up Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Keith Bogans and MarShon Brooks is not exactly giving up the farm (or buying it, either).
Make a trade like that and your team better be better.
Those are just the demands on the court. What about the rookie coach? Look what he’s stepping into: the highest of expectations.
Jason Kidd would feel the pressure had he directed any squad (and peers) his first year, but as Bleacher Report’s own Sean Hojnacki notes:
He takes the reins of a high-profile team in a pressurized media market [and] will be expected to improve drastically upon last year's first-round disappointment. Kidd has accepted a job which requires him to win a championship in two years.
Surely, at least in Prokhorov’s mind, winning the Atlantic is the minimum this year.
New York Knicks
The Knicks are starting off with a new man up front as well, sort of—the latest GM, Steve Mills.
Mills was COO and president of Madison Square Garden between 2003 and 2009, the second-worst stretch in franchise history.
This shouldn’t knock the Knicks off their goals, though, unless a preposterous trade or errant roster maneuver leads back to the front office.
New York’s roster is set and like Brooklyn’s, it’s better than last season’s in talent, health and experience (including Mike Woodson). The Knicks got younger, too, unlike the Nets.
The addition of Metta World Peace was the shot in the arm—the big update—they needed to take another step forward. Add World Peace to a full season of Iman Shumpert and a properly spelled, still-got-it Tyson Chandler, and New York’s a top defensive team able to hang with the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls.
World Peace and Andrea Bargnani also improve the offense.
The Knicks are the reigning Atlantic Division champions, finished five games ahead of the Nets at 54-28 and missed the Eastern Conference Finals by just two games.
How much better can they be? Defending the Atlantic (and the top-half playoff seed that comes with it), staving off the much-improved Nets, winning 55 or more games themselves and at least making the Conference Finals are what fans will want.
But there’s only so many wins to go around, especially with the Pacers, Bulls and Miami Heat also improving this offseason.
The core of the Knicks team—Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Chandler—and Coach Woodson will be at it for a third time, adding some urgency and expectation to the upcoming season.
Most urgent is keeping Anthony on board, and how the Knicks do this season may influence the scoring leader when he almost certainly exercises his player option and tests the free-agent market at season’s end, championship or not.
So, Who Is Under More Pressure?
It’s the New York Knicks.
They have more to lose. They have been the better of the two teams during the Stoudemire-Anthony era and for most of the Nets' existence.
New York holds the Atlantic flag and has established ownership of this town over many years. The Knicks stand to lose their lead over their young, decidedly upstart, ABA-born brothers.
It’s the Knicks’ reputation that has the furthest to fall. They are still the standard-bearers of New York basketball…for now.
The Nets can still hide under the cloak of the B-team around here. But the Knicks, like the New York Yankees and the New York Giants, have to uphold the standard. Nothing could be worse than being dethroned.
Maybe losing your best player in the process.