NEW YORK -- Even as the New York Knicks ran around the Barclays Center on Tuesday night, acting as if the borough of Brooklyn belonged to them every bit as much as it used to, the reality of this debacle of a season rapidly seeped in.
The Brooklyn Nets weren’t fazed by anything the Knicks were doing because they didn’t need to be. The Knicks, for all intents and purposes, were a mere afterthought.
After all, the Nets will have another game at the Barclays Center next week. Unlike Tuesday night, the games to come will actually matter. They will be in the postseason. Their coach will remain on their bench next season. And their billionaire owner and smart general manager aren't worried about losing their resident franchise player because he doesn’t have the luxury of opting out of his contract and becoming a free agent this summer.
“It’s fun being a Brooklyn Net right now,” Nets GM Billy King said recently. “That much I’ll admit.”
King wasn’t taking a shot at the Knicks, but truth be told, even if he had, could you blame him?
As the Knicks' excruciating season finally comes to an end, it’s almost painful to admit that the Nets are everything the Knicks were supposed to be. And there’s no reason to believe that will change anytime soon. Even with Phil Jackson in the house.
It’s the Knicks who are not in the playoffs. It’s the Knicks who couldn’t reach 40 wins this season. It’s the Knicks who have losses to Milwaukee and Philadelphia on their résumé, who managed to surrender 51 points in a quarter to a Lakers squad without Kobe Bryant or Steve Nash and who were saddled with nine- and seven-game losing streaks.
Yet all we kept hearing throughout this season was “We’re still shooting for the playoffs” from coach Mike Woodson, who will be fired any day now. “We’ve still got something to play for.”
If you’re feeling sorry for Woodson, you have company. It appears the poor man never had a chance.
Before training camp opened or a preseason game took place, all of Woodson’s comfort nuggets were taken away from him. Gone, inexplicably, was his friend of 37 years, former GM Glen Grunwald. The contracts of his assistant coaches were not renewed. Along the way, veterans departed via retirement (Jason Kidd), trade (Steve Novak and Marcus Camby) or just other job opportunities (Rasheed Wallace), and locker-room stability departed with them.
There’s a reason Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were acquired and inserted into Brooklyn’s locker room. “Can’t put a price on stability and veteran leadership,” King said. (Factor in J.R. Smith’s five-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy, and we understand why.)
The thing is, Kidd and the Nets could have suffered the same fate as the Knicks. After all, they started out 10-21. Yet despite vouching for Lawrence Frank and securing a six-year, $6 million deal for the high-profile assistant, Kidd didn’t hesitate to get rid of Frank when he decided his former New Jersey head coach was undermining him.
Essentially, Kidd said, “I’m the man in charge. I run this show.” He was backed up by King, who was backed up by Mikhail Prokhorov, who was willing to swallow the $6 million. All the Nets have done is register one of the best records in the league since Jan. 1.
The Knicks, clearly, can’t say the same.
Nobody knows this better than Carmelo Anthony, who conversed with chairman James Dolan after he released Grunwald to ask why Dolan would do such a thing. According to sources, Melo asked Dolan, “What kind of a message does it send to get rid of someone who just helped us win 54 games? What are we supposed to think or feel?"
Sadly, it wouldn’t be the last time Melo asked such questions. He’s just kept his thoughts out of the media.
The quiet, the silence, made the Knicks nervous enough to go out and sign Jackson for $12 million per year, both for PR purposes and to improve their chances of keeping Melo.
Jackson is the man who will supposedly have to answer for Melo’s departure if it comes down to that. The man assigned to rebuild the Knicks. The man who will help New Yorkers refrain from protesting outside Madison Square Garden on game days, as Jackson was able to do simply by getting introduced as the new president the day before a fan protest was scheduled last month.
Yet in the end, Melo still doesn’t know what he’ll do. He’s still out of the playoffs for the first time in his 11-year career. This Knicks roster still isn’t good enough to legitimately compete for a title. They still have Dolan and, with him, the potential for chaos, because even as the team president, Jackson still will have to deal with Dolan’s invasive tendencies eventually.
No wonder you hear Kidd consistently say how proud he is to be a Net. No wonder you don’t hear anyone in Brooklyn complaining.
They’re winning games and heading to the playoffs to compete for a championship.
The Knicks will be watching, just like the rest of us.