The Battle For New York Is Real: 10 Deciding Matchups Between The Knicks & Nets

After the Brooklyn Nets traded for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the New York Knicks responded by trading for the exact opposite type of player when they acquired Andrea Bargnani from the Raptors. Then they re-signed the NBA’s 2013 Sixth Man of the Year, J.R. Smith. The Nets, considered impotent in the face of any more free agency moves with a tapped out salary cap, then pulled off the Andrei Kirilenko signing last night. The stakes keep getting higher in New York as Mikhail Prokhorov attempts to usurp James Dolan’s Knicks as the preeminent New York City team.

Here are 10 matchups on and off the court to decide who reigns supreme in New York now, and who will likely hold court in the future.

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This is a no-brainer. The Knicks have been relevant since the NBA’s inception, with the NBA’s offices stationed in New York, the draft held in New York, and the commissioner’s favorite hometown team, the New York Knicks. In fact, the nascent beginnings of the National Basketball Association began when Ned Irish, then the owner and operator of Madison Square Garden, acquired the Knicks franchise from New York sportswriter, Max Kase, one of the original founders of the league. The Knicks were already elbowing people out of the way in the inchoate days of the NBA. They then went on to own New York despite only winning titles in 1970 and 1973 and have long been the lone professional team associated with New York City hoops.

The Nets, conversely, are one of four teams that arrived in the NBA via the 1976 ABA-NBA merger. The New York Nets and star, Julius Irving, joined the league after winning the last ABA championship against another new merger team, the Denver Nuggets. Irving won the ABA Finals MVP and regular season MVP in the final season of the long-defunct league. But because the New York Knicks were angry about the Nets invading their turf in New York, they demanded the Nets pay them $4.8 million as part of the merger. That was no small amount of money in 1976, and Nets owner Roy Boe first offered Irving up to the Knicks to waive the fee. After the Knicks balked (which was disastrous and ruined the post-Walt Frazier/Willis Reed/Bill Bradley Knicks until Patrick Ewing came along in 1985), the Nets traded Irving to the Philadelphia 76ers for cash so they could pay the merger fee and the Knicks’ invasion fee. The competition between the two teams began with the Knicks winning (and because they didn’t take Irving) losing the first round.
Edge: Knicks

Again, this is pretty easy. The Knicks might not have won any titles once Walt Frazier stopped running point and starting a running commentary, but they were in the thick of the Eastern Conference battles throughout the 90’s. The Nets, meanwhile, despite the 1983-84 season under Stan Albeck, never won a playoff series until Jason Kidd came to town and they went to back-to-back NBA Finals in 2003 and 2004, losing to the Spurs and Lakers, respectively.

The closest the Knicks ever got to capturing a third title was with Patrick Ewing, John Starks, Charles Oakley and coach Pat Riley with the 1994 team that didn’t have to go through the then-retired Michael Jordan on their way to the Finals against Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Rockets. They fell in seven games. The Knicks were again in the Finals during the strike-shortened 1999 season, where they fell once more, this time to the youngster Tim Duncan and the Admiral, David Robinson.

Despite the similarities in results, the Knicks have almost always had the better teams, especially after Pat Riley came aboard in the 90’s. But Jason Kidd did lead to a resurgence of the old New York Nets at the dawn of the new millennium, while Isiah Thomas‘ front office decisions depleted the Knicks in the first few years of that same millennium.
Slight edge: Knicks, but largely based off those incredible Red Holzman coached late 60’s and early 70’s teams.


Its pretty unfair how we’ve gone about comparing these two teams so far, since the Nets spent so much time in the Dr. T.J. Eckleburg Wasteland that is New Jersey. Jersey—to New Yorkers, at least—is the worst. It would be one thing if New Jersey had latched on to the Nets like they have WaWa’s, piddling Bon Jovi albums and reality television shows about GTL (gym, tan, laundry), but they’ve largely ignored the Nets while they were in town. After the Nets moved from the Rutgers Athletic Center to the Brendan Byrne Arena (later the Izod Center) after the 1981 season, the Nets’ average attendance, which had been 20th in a league of 23 the last year at Rutgers, jumped to 4th in the league the next season when Larry Brown took over as coach. But the next season they were 5th and the next they were 7th and the next 8th, as people continued to leave en masse until 1990 when they were 25th out of 27 teams in attendance and one of the worst draws in the league.

Derrick Coleman‘s arrival helped flip that attendance switch, but they never did better than 12th (in a league of 27) and quickly fell to the back of the league’s attendance list once people realized who Derrick Coleman really was. To put this in perspective, when Kidd was leading the Nets to back-to-back NBA title runs in the early 2000s, the franchise’s only real success since the ABA merger, they ranked 26th and 23rd in attendance (out of 29 teams) those seasons. That’s dreadful. In their last season in New Jersey for the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season, the Nets were dead last in attendance, and you could get excellent seats on the cheap to watch Kim Kardashian cheer on Kris Humphries from center court.

Conversely, the Knicks have always played in Madison Square Garden: the Mecca of basketball. MSG is a place where the superstars of the game, the LeBron James’ and the Michael Jordan’s, talk openly of it’s historical significance. The Garden was even bumping during the lean, Isiah Thomas years. It’s basketball heaven, with the Big East tournament and countless other basketball events taking place on its hollowed grounds.

The Barclays Center is an alien that landed in the middle of the Atlantic Avenue terminal in Brooklyn. Despite dispossessing countless Brooklyn families during it’s Bruce Ratner beginnings, it’s a wonderful venue (if a little cramped up-top), and the parquet designed court is excellent on the eyes. But it’s still no MSG, no matter how many luxury suites Mikhail Prokhorov offers up via Jay-Z’s conspicuous consumption. Madison Square Garden wins, by a landslide, but Brooklyn Nets fans shouldn’t worry too much about this; the Garden would beat just about every basketball arena in the country these days. It’s the history of the game, packed into a newly renovated basketball steeple.
Huge Edge: Knicks

This is a tricky one. Mike Woodson appeared to have saved the franchise when he took over for the departed Mike D’Antoni towards the end of the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season. He finished 18-6 over the team’s final 24 games, and the Knicks’ often petulant star, Carmelo Anthony, actually seemed to be playing on both sides of the court, instead of his usual loafing routine on defense.

Woodson also led the Knicks to their first playoff series victory last year against the Rajon Rondo-less Celtics. It was thei first such playoff series since the pallor of Jeff Van Gundy beamed out from the sidelines during the 1999-00 title run. That’s a streak of longer than 10 years, so Woodson has to get some dap. He’s also seemed to get the best out of another player considered cancerous to team play and defense, J.R. Smith, who had his best season as a pro last year while winning the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award. Smith then re-signed with the Knicks this offseason partially—we’d guess—because of Woodson’s involvement. He seems capable of handling the egos of a couple shoot-first ask questions later players, and that’s to be lauded.

But the Nets might have one-upped the Knicks here. Their signing of Jason Kidd as their next head coach came just days after he’d retired from playing professional basketball for the Knicks!

Kidd has never coached in his life, but that’s discounting his settled presence in NBA locker-rooms since he came into the league as the co-ROY during the 1994-95 season. Kidd’s presence and leadership cannot be questioned. He’s always been praised as an excellent leader of men, and someone that other players in the league look up to. Part of the reason KG agreed to waive his no-trade clause to go to Brooklyn was at the urging of Kidd. In a locker-room as experienced as the Nets now are, Kidd’s place as the coach will be instrumental in their win now or die trying initiative from up top.
Ever-so slight edge: Nets, but that could change if Kidd can’t produce wins right away.

The reserves for both the Nets and the Knicks may be strong this season, but in vastly different ways. With the acquisition of Andrea Bargnani, the Knicks are now loaded at forward, with Bargnani able to play a stretch 4, and with ‘Melo returning to his old spot at small forward (we won’t even get into how ‘Melo at the 4 was the most effective mismatch for the Knicks last season because we might cry). But if Bargnani starts at power forward, then Amar’e Stoudemire will come off the bench. Same goes for the Iman Shumpert vs. J.R. Smith conundrum at the off-guard spot. Regardless of who starts, the back-ups in the front court will be strong offensively. The sieve that will form if Woodson elects to play Amar’e Stoudemire, Bargnani and ‘Melo without the helpful Tyson Chandler on the back line, will probably lead to an insurrection at MSG, but offensively the Knicks’ bench will be able to light it up. They just might not be able to stop anyone.

On the other side, the Nets got even more deep with the signing of Kirilenko. Right now, their second unit looks like this: Shaun Livingston at point, Jason Terry at the off-guard, Andrei Kirilenko at small forward, Reggie Evans at the four, and Andray Blatche at the five. They have offense with Terry, Livingston and Blatche and defense with AK47 and Reggie Evans. That gives them the nod because New York’s bench only plays on one side of the court.
Edge: Nets


Mikhail Prokhrov is a billionaire Russian magnate who accumulated his wealth in the Halcyon days just after Communist Russia fell in the 1990s. He’s also a Jet Ski fan who lifts weights, doesn’t own a cell phone and doesn’t really know where his $45 million yacht, the Solemar, is right now.

Knicks owner James Dolan once pulled advertising from the Village Voice when one of their writers alluded to sexual act with rival Gothamist after it was revealed Dolan’s Cablevision was purchasing Gothamist; Dolan also installed microphones at MSG to record every conversation with Carmelo Anthony after the famed Honey Nut Cheeriosâ„¢ incident with KG. Also, Dolan has a band called JD and The Straight Shot (get it?) that’s about as dreadful as it sounds.

HUGE edge: Nets

Carmelo Anthony is in his prime. So are Brook Lopez and J.R. Smith. Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Jason Terry and anyone else you may have heard of on either of these teams is either well past their prime, or nearing the twilight of an excellent career. Despite the age of the Nets, they pack a punch with all their signings this off-season, and they shouldn’t be discounted because of the wear and tear of decades in the league.

We’ve already shown you why the Knicks’ bench loses out to the Nets, and that will help save the achy joints of the Nets’ starters from breaking down over a long regular season. Once the playoffs roll around, the Nets won’t exactly be spring chickens, but they’ll have rested enough to unleash the force of their all-star lineup (â„… 2008) in the playoffs. But there is still no one on the Nets who can do what Carmelo Anthony does in his prime. Brook Lopez might lumber into a 20 and 10 game, but despite his improvement last year, he’s not someone that can carry a team to the promise land; at least, not yet.

The problem for both teams will be keeping their ostensible stars healthy long enough to make that run in the spring of 2014. Neither team should have trouble making the playoffs in the top-heavy Eastern Conference, but if either wants to battle the Bulls, Pacers and Heat for Eastern Conference supremacy, they’ll have to wait in the wings or risk losing one of their cornerstone stars to an awkward landing on someone else’s sneaker. All it takes is one tweaked knee and both teams could combust in a pile of team doctor press conferences. But man, these two teams would have been something in 2008. It remains to be seen whether they’ll be able to achieve that amount of success in 2014.

For the simple fact that Brooklyn has more stars, though not necessarily better ones, they get ever-so-small a nod over ‘Melo’s pure offensive brilliance.

Slight edge: Nets


Just as important as the stars on both squads, are the role players, but there are a lot of questions.

While some might flitter between the two groups we’ve designated, others—like human rebound eater, Reggie Evans—know their lanes and will stay in them. But what happens when Raymond Felton goes down? Will Pablo Prigioni step up to actually hit big shots like he did when Kidd went through that awful cold stretch last season? Will Andray Blatche continue to be OK with getting back-up minutes behind Brook if he’s feeling it from the field? Will Blatche stay the hell away from New York’s strip clubs? Will Amar’e be OK as a star player on the bench, and not even the top offensive option coming off the bench, if he’s joined by Smith on the second team?

Is Iman Shumpert all the way back from his ACL tear in 2012, like he appeared at times in last season’s playoffs? Can Andrea Bargnani muster together enough brio to actually guard the rim if Chandler goes out with an injury or needs a breather? These are all important questions and it’s really up in the air as to whether either of these team’s role players will be able to pick up the slack if the aging starters in front of them go down. We know Shuan Livingston has resurrected his career after that horrific knee injury with LA, but can he continue to impress in the bright lights of Brooklyn like he did in Cleveland last season after Kyrie Irving went down?

So many questions and we only know the answers to a few, and of those few, they’re judgements more than solid answers. Right now, both of these teams forecast to be among the league’s best, but their role players will have to step up. Your guess is as good as ours, at least as the role players are concerned.
Edge: Even


Brooklyn has become the de facto downtown New York scene as we stretch into the thirteenth year of the 21st century. The Williamsburg hipster zeitgeist (that’s not really a zeitgeist unless you consider skinny jeans life-changing) dominates the Styles section of the New York Times years after people have stopped using hipster as anything but an ironic homage to Bedford Avenue’s gentrification. Brooklyn also has some great pizza, bagels, and really obscure bourbons at whiskey bars.

New York is considered boring and too commercial for the louche 20-somethings in Brooklyn, but it’s still Manhattan and the isle is the hub of Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko-fication of the one percent. It’s still a place people dream of living, only to get here and realize it’s a good vacation destination, but not a place to pay rent. New York’s got the best restaurants, the best clubs, the best bars and taverns, the best art (though Bushwick is coming on strong in that respect), the best stage shows. Brooklyn has a lot of good music, a DIY ethos and a bristling identity crisis when compared to the wide Avenues of midtown Manhattan, but Manhatten is synonymous with New York, while Brooklyn has always been the outlier.

Both boroughs have an unhealthy disrespect for each other, and both are separated by the noxious East River’s flotsam-heavy ripples lapping against a deserted East Side in Manhattan and the now-bustling West Side of Brooklyn. To pick one is to denigrate the other. They are both part and parcel of the New York City experience and so there can be no victor.
Edge: Even


The Knicks and Nets are both pretty tied up financially—at least this year. So don’t expect to see a lot of moves beyond what has already transpired this summer. The Nets, rather than try to rebuild after last season’s disappointing first round exit to the Derrick Rose-less Bulls, have decided to double down on Jason Kidd and two third’s of Boston’s aging Big Three as they attempt to bring a title to Brooklyn so Mikhail Prokhorov can continue his unfettered billionaire’s lifestyle secure in the knowledge he can do just about anything he wants and he’ll still make money.

New York’s GM, Glen Grunwald, re-signed Smith, dealt more draft picks than many Knicks fans would have wanted for a disappointing former number one pick in Bargnani, let Steve Novak, Chris Copeland, Kenyon Martin, Rasheed Wallace, Kurt Thomas, Marcus Camby and others either walk, retire or traded them for their current roster. The Knicks are as all-in as the Nets are, but with a vastly different roster that focuses on gunning it from long range rather than grinding it down low, like the Garnett-Lopez-Evans-Blatche monster will.

Deciding who will do better this season is a toss-up, like a lot of these matchups have been. The addition of former champions like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, not to mention Jason Kidd, has the Nets in the driver’s seat. The Knicks may have the history, the stadium, the superstar and the aplomb associated with being New York’s favorite team (and they’ll ALWAYS be New York’s favorite team), but the Nets will be better. For this year at least.
Slight edge: Nets

Who you got: the New York Knicks or Brooklyn Nets?

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