Saturday, December 29, 2018

Borough vs. Borough: Brooklyn Nets Pulling Away From Knickerbockers

From the desks of:

An Under-Spoken Inner City Rivalry of Attrition


Rewind back to 2004 if you will: Bruce Ratner purchases the New Jersey Nets with the intention of relocating them to Brooklyn.  It's no secret that his underlying business interest involves a more grandiose real estate development in the downtown area.  A Kings County native, Ratner's ploy nevertheless threatens James Dolan's monopoly on New York City's arena sports, entertainment, and events venues.

As expected, his plan for constructing a new arena along Flatbush Avenue at Atlantic Avenue is met with great resistance.  And with Ratner bogged down in court, Dolan is able to devote time and resources towards successfully thwarting another more immediate threat posed in 2005 by the New York Jets and a proposed new football stadium to be constructed atop Manhattan's west side rail yards.  However, his victory over the Jets and NYC's politico is short lived.  On March, 11, 2010, groundbreaking ceremonies for Barclays Center finally take place in Brooklyn, thus finally making it official: direct inner-city competition will soon be arriving at Dolan's door step.  Only this time, there's nothing he can do to prevent it.

Enter (new Nets majority owner) Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov who later that summer launches the first salvo in what becomes known as the Billboard Wars when he commissions a building-side mural along Eighth Avenue, just a few blocks away from Madison Square Garden.  Jim Dolan strikes back with a rather clever purchase of billboard space located within the footprint of Ratner's Atlantic Yards construction site.  After which, Nets signage begins fanning throughout the borough, while the Knicks keep their reactive marketing focused along Flatbush Avenue.  By year's end, though, the Knicks pull out of the billboard business.

Hostilities ratchet up again in February of 2011, upon outbreak of the now infamous Battle for Carmelo Anthony.  With Melo desperately wanting out of Denver (Nuggets), he is a handshake away from being traded to the New Jersey Nets, that is until Jim Dolan catches wind and launches himself headlong into the Melo sweepstakes like a bull in a china shop.  He shamelessly tramples over both general manager Donnie Walsh and head coach Mike D'Antoni en-route to securing one of the league's perennial scoring threats - a veritable coup, or so Dolan thought.  To his dismay, the next morning's tabloids as their lead story run with the Nets surprising acquisition under the cover of night of well regarded point guard Deron Williams from the Utah Jazz.  By daybreak, a squabbling media is raging in debate as to which team secured the better deal.

By the 2012-2013 season, Barclays Center is open for business, while Dolan's billion dollar renovation of Madison Square Garden is likewise near complete.  Over the course of the next several seasons, neither acquisition works out to either team's great satisfaction.  In 2012-13, Carmelo Anthony leads the Knicks to an Atlantic Division title, but they've failed to qualify for the playoffs since.  The Knicks averaged just 34.2 wins during Melo's five seasons in New York, and just 33.3 wins in the six years prior to David Fizdale's arrival.  Although the Nets make three straight playoff appearances in their first three season at Brooklyn, they experience a precipitous fall as well.  In 2015, the Nets buy out the remainder of Deron William's contract, and by 2017 the Knicks trade Carmelo Anthony to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Williams/Melo era ends with a whimper; the next reconstruction period begins.

By 2016-2017, the Nets are first to acknowledge their failure and recommit themselves to a grassroots rebuild.  They hire Sean Marks as new general manager who in turn hires Kenny Atkinson as head coach.  Together, their sticktoitiveness has been nothing short of commendable.  The Knicks on the other hand are slower to recognize their blight, and perhaps are more stubborn as well.  And there's the rub ... I still don't know what the Knicks are up to.  I'm no fan of Sam Mills.  I view him as nothing more than Dolan's lone remaining friend in the building.  I'm not so sure Scott Perry is the answer either.  I agree, however, David Fizdale is part of the solution.  But when looking at the bigger picture, the Knicks are clearly lagging behind the Nets, and losing ground by the day.

Lest we forget this is about direct competition.  The Nets are the invaders, and Jim Dolan was made to respond.  To date, he's matched them move for move.  But does anyone besides me find it rather ponderous that Dolan would choose the holiday season for (Ian O'Connor interview) throwing himself a pity party?  Is that a touch of defeatism I hear?  Is it because Brooklyn's plan is working, while his own basketball organization continues marinating in its own futility?

Why else would he knowingly cause ripples in the news pool with talk of an unlikely sale of the Knicks?

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