Before Mikhail Prokhorov bought the Nets, New York was all about the Knicks.
The Knicks play in the most famous arena in the world, Madison Square Garden, while for years the Nets played their home games at the Izod Center. Even the name sounds cheap. Who buys Izod?
The Knicks have a rich hoops history, going back to the days of Walt Frazier, Bill Bradley, Willis Reed, and Earl Monroe. The Nets, on the other hand, had Michael Ray Richardson and Jayson Williams. Richardson battled drug addiction for much of his life, while Williams spent a year and a half in prison following the manslaughter charges that were levied against him following the accidental shooting of a limousine driver on his property in 2002.
Celebrities such as Spike Lee, Woody Allen, Ben and Jerry Stiller, and Whoopi Goldberg are season-ticket holders and die-hard Knicks fans. Kim Kardashian was spotted sitting courtside at a Nets game in 2010, but her stint as a “Nets fan” was shorter than her marriage to Kris Humphries.
Since taking over as the majority owner, Prokhorov moved the Nets to Brooklyn, built a state-of-the-art arena, spent millions bringing in high-priced free agents such as Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce, and hired Jason Kidd as head coach.
Entering the 2013-14 season, the Nets are the only NBA team well over the salary cap threshold, topping the list with a whopping estimated team salary of $101 million. The Knicks, once perennial salary cap kings, are now fifth in the league at $80 million.
The Nets still have a ways to go before New York fans completely embrace them, but Prokhorov has such deep pockets he can actually buy fans.
OneManFastBreak.net examines the teams in the Atlantic Division and where they’ll finish:
1-NEW YORK KNICKS
The Nets may be armed with more firepower and star power with the addition of Garnett and Pierce, but the Knicks still own the best player in the division, Carmelo Anthony. Melo enjoyed the best season of his 10-year career in 2012-13, leading the league in scoring (28.7), and received one first-place vote in the MVP selection process to prevent LeBron James from being a unanimous choice. Getting Melo shots wasn’t the problem last year. Getting Amare Stoudemire shots was a big problem. Anthony prefers isolation plays, while Stoudemire prefers high screen-and-rolls. Stoudemire’s scoring average has dipped in each of the last two years because of injuries and circumstance. And his role will take an even greater hit this season with the acquisition of forwards Andrea Bargnani and Ron Artest. Head coach Mike Woodson likes to employ small ball, which means Anthony at power forward, Tyson Chandler at center, Iman Shumpert at small forward, Raymond Felton at point, and J.R. Smith at shooting guard. That doesn’t leave a lot of minutes for Stoudemire, who is scheduled to make $21 million this season.
Jason Kidd was hired for two things: 1) provide a respected voice in the locker room, and 2) be a mentor to Deron Williams. Kidd may not have any coaching experience but he knows the point guard position better than most NBA coaches. Prokhorov and general manager Billy King received some heat for hiring Kidd. But you don’t need to go through the gamut to be a successful coach. Mark Jackson proved you can go from broadcaster to coach without much practice. Kidd could be a sounding board for Williams, who has been somewhat of a disappointment since signing with the Nets in 2010. Coaching is all about managing egos and maximizing a player’s potential. Kidd should be able to do both well. Garnett has yet to play a single game wearing Nets colors but he has already embedded himself as the voice of the team. Kidd suggested that Garnett should take a few nights off, especially on the back end of a back-to-back. But didn’t sit well with KG. The 37-year-old Garnett told USA Today that he has “earned the right to have an opinion on something,” and from a chemistry standpoint he thinks it’s important for him “to be out there with everybody.” Sounds like Kidd will be taking orders from KG.
The Raptors made a huge splash by luring NBA Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri away from the Denver Nuggets. Ujiri was the mastermind behind the rebuilding of the Nuggets after the Carmelo Anthony trade. The Raptors have some very talented pieces in the fold: Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan, and Kyle Lowry. Gay is a borderline All-Star who is a capable 20-point scorer. He and DeRozan combined to average 36 points per game in 2012-13 and seemed to work well together. After releasing longtime point man Jose Calderon, Lowry becomes the fulltime point guard for head coach Dwane Casey. The Raptors are absolutely giddy about the progress of 21-year-old Lithuanian center Jonas Valanciunas. The 7-footer dominated the Las Vegas Summer League, averaging nearly 19 points and 10 rebounds a game en route to being named the tournament MVP.
It’s say to Garnett, Pierce, Ray Allen, and Doc Rivers are not walking through the TD Garden doors anytime soon. Allen won a championship in Miami, Rivers takes over a young Clippers squad led by Chris Paul, and KG and Pierce are now in Brooklyn. Rajon Rondo is the lone holdover from the 2008 championship team, but he’s coming off a devastating ACL injury. This could be a long year for first-year coach Brad Stevens, who inherits a roster full of unproven commodities. Stevens squeezed every once of talent from his teams at Butler University, but college coaches historically have done poorly transitioning to the NBA. Celtics boss Danny Ainge may not admit it but the franchise is in full tank mode to try to pick up enough ping-pong balls in the 2014 draft. Rookie Kelly Olynyk showed off a nice face-up game and outside shooting touch during the Orlando summer league.
The Sixers are another team in full rebuild mode. Philly waited until August before hiring Brett Brown. The 52-year-old coach was part of three NBA title teams with San Antonio as an assistant and won another with the Spurs when he served in the basketball operations department in 1999. Brown has the unenviable task of fixing a team gutted by defections. The Andrew Bynum gamble was a complete disaster, and it could take a couple of years before the Sixers could recover from that mistake. New general manager Eddie Hinkie wanted to wash his hands of the Bynum debacle by starting fresh. Philly traded young star Jrue Holiday on draft night and picked up two young athletes in Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams. Noel is coming off ACL surgery, but claims his knee is progressing well and hopes to return by December. Carter-Williams is a 6-6 point guard who showed flashes of brilliance in the Orlando Summer League, but his jump shot needs some tweaking.
Joel Huerto is editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.