NEW YORK –- Paul Pierce announced his arrival in Brooklyn a year ago with a bold proclamation: "It's time for the Nets to start running this city."
J.R. Smith took offense and shot back, describing Pierce as a "bitter person" after leaving Boston. The two then went back and forth a bit, pumping some much-needed life into the budding rivalry between the Knicks and Nets.
But does anyone care who runs New York now?
The truth is the sizzle is gone from the cross-river rivalry. So much has changed since last summer. Pierce is now wearing a Washington Wizards uniform and Smith has bigger things to worry about, including his growing tab at the league offices.
The Knicks have a new regime and a new offense to get accustomed to. The Nets have a new coaching staff and system to learn, too, after Jason Kidd's departure this offseason. They also have to be concerned about the health of their veteran roster and incorporating Brook Lopez, who missed most of last season, back into the mix.
Heck, the two franchises might as well be holding hands as essentially the co-hosts of this February's All-Star Weekend. All that’s missing is Mikhail Prokhorov holding the door open for James Dolan and making sure it doesn't hit the Knicks owner “where the Good Lord has split you.”
“The cooperation [between the Knicks and Nets] has been terrific,” said NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who joined the Nets and service members from Fort Hamilton to pack food donations at City Harvest. “The rivalry on the court has been one thing. But the organizations have been working very well together, they have been very cooperative around this All-Star Weekend.”
All-Star Weekend figures to be a great event for the city. But give me the trash talking again. Give me Pierce vowing to turn Knicks fans into Nets fans. Bring back the “Blueprint for Greatness” billboard outside Madison Square Garden. I miss the “fugazy” days of Tim Thomas wanting to take on Kenyon Martin in an octagon.
Remember when Stephon Marbury thought he was the best point guard in the city even after an in-his-prime Kidd had directed the (then-New Jersey) Nets to two straight NBA Finals? Or how about when Marbury was a Net and was practically beside himself with the fact that Charlie Ward and Chris Childs were the Knicks point guards?
When the Nets hired Kidd and traded for Pierce and Kevin Garnett last summer, the latest chapter in the Knicks-Nets rivalry had a soap opera feel to it.
Kidd ruled the Knicks as a Nets player. And then he became a Knick and helped them win 54 games only to retire as a player and immediately take over the Nets as a first-time head coach. Pierce, a noted Knick hater as a Celtic, added the swagger and venom. And there was KG, who had his own run-in with Carmelo Anthony once upon a time.
When the NBA held a news conference last season to announce that the Knicks and Nets would work in tandem to host the All-Star Weekend in 2015, tension could even be felt between the executives of both franchises as they shared the stage with Silver.
Dolan looked like he would have rather been in Russia than on a stage with Brooklyn execs and Prokhorov wasn’t even in attendance that day.
“We recognize both organizations are incredibly competitive,” Silver said on Thursday. “And they are competing against each other not just on the court but they are competing for sponsors and season-ticket sales and everything else.”
The two teams split their first two meetings last season in blowout fashion by an average of 26.5 points, each winning on the other’s home floor. The Knicks would take the final two meetings against the Nets in the span of two weeks in April, but the Knicks’ season was winding down and the Nets were on their way to the playoffs.
One thing that will likely remain a constant with the Knicks and Nets is the brigade of Knicks fans who will make their annual trip to Nets territory and make their voices heard.
“This is my first time being a part of, I guess, the battle of New York City so to speak,” new Net Jarrett Jack said. “I imagine what it’s going to be, it’s going to be like high school, the school you gonna play is around the corner or up the street. Y’all too close for comfort so it just breeds good competition.”
The commissioner is looking forward to seeing what transpires on Friday at Barclays Center.
“We will see what comes out of tomorrow night’s game,” Silver said with a smile. “Maybe there won’t be such positive feelings after the game.”