By Casey Viera, Columnist
Let's face it, the Nets are not the Knicks.
The greatest face of their franchise, Jason Kidd, never captivated a fan base like Patrick Ewing. The Tri-state area was never grasped by the team's success during its prime. Even during their peak, New York City basketball still bled orange and blue.
Maybe it's because New Jersey is not New York. Maybe it's because then-Continental Airlines Arena was a far cry from Madison Square Garden. Maybe it's because the Nets' fan base is not that of their rivals on Madison Avenue.
At the end of the day, the Nets will always be the little brother to the Knicks.
Earlier this week, big brother landed another punch to the gut, snagging their coveted prize in Carmelo Anthony from Denver, leaving New Jersey out to dry in the process. Despite the valiant attempts from Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov, Anthony refused to put pen on paper and would not agree to sign off on a trade to Newark.
Another victory for Broadway.
However, Prokhorov finally lived up to months of seemingly overzealous hype and put a jolt into his stagnant franchise by acquiring all-star point guard Deron Williams from Utah.
Finally, "The Blueprint for Success" has its foundation.
This team isn't going to the playoffs this season. There is a chance they wont be there next season. But the Nets have something that they haven't had since Kidd was running the show and that is a flat out stud of a basketball player in his prime and a future face of the franchise. Not to mention they got him for Devin Harris, a player who has reached his ceiling and had no interest in staying with the organization, young forward Derrick Favors, a player who's ceiling is still debatable and two first round picks. Add that to the elements they have now in a top 5 center in Brook Lopez (even if it is by default), three first round picks in the next two years and salary cap to room lure a marquee free agent entering the 2012-13 season, things are looking brighter for Jersey.
Take a look at all of the successful teams in the NBA. What are three common elements that they all have in terms of building their success? Front office, coach and a star player.
A team like Oklahoma City is a perfect comparison to the situation New Jersey is in right now. After the 2007-08 season they were a lost franchise looking for a sense of direction in their final year as the Seattle Supersonics, finishing 20-62. General Manager Sam Presti elects to move them to an electric fan base in Oklahoma City and the change in culture begins. A foundation is set with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Enter year two of the franchise and the team finishes 50-32 under Coach of the Year Scott Brooks, more than doubling their previous win total from 23-59. With an aging Kobe Bryant, a soon to be retiring Tim Duncan, a continuously faltering in the clutch Mavericks team in a weakening West, Durant is licking his chops at the thought of the future and a chance to take the reigns of the conference.
With Prokhorov and general manager Billy King acquiring Williams, the Nets have put themselves in a similar spot to grow. Williams is arguably the best player at his position and a top 10 player in the game. Avery Johnson is a proven coach within the league and a former Coach of the Year. With the money to play around with in two years, they can make a play at Dwight Howard (can you imagine a frontcourt of Lopez and Howard? Brutal). Perhaps most importantly, they have the chance to revitalize their lukewarm fan base when they move to Brooklyn in 2012-13.
Now let me be clear here, as well. I doubt the Nets are going to be taking home the Larry O'Brien Trophy within the next 5 years. Even with the roster they have now and they pick up Howard two off seasons from now, will they better than Miami, Chicago or Boston (who knows when their expiration dates will be)? Will they be better than the Knicks? Those are a lot of maybes for the organization and it still may not be enough to represent the East in the Finals two years from now.
And above all else, they still have to fix the present before the future. This is still a team that has 17 wins at the All-Star break. This is an organization that is playing in a stopgap home for one more season at the Prudential Center. And that aforementioned face of the franchise is no guarantee two years from now.
While that question may linger if Williams himself agrees to hitch on for a few more years when his contract expires after the 2011-12 season, I can't see why he wouldn't. The way the league has evolved over the past year with superstars pressuring their way into bigger markets leads me to believe that Williams will find his new home pretty comforting. Besides, what options will be more attractive than being the face of an upcoming Brooklyn franchise with the chance to play with the likes of another max superstar? You would be hard pressed to find one.
And not for nothing, think about the last time the Nets traded a "good" point guard (Stephon Marbury) for a "great" point guard (Kidd) back in 2001. A 26-win last place team went to a 52-win Finals runner-up. Obviously, a stretch considering the powers in the Eastern Conference comparatively speaking to back then, but it shows the impact of what one player can make in a year's span.
Last night, Anthony debuted at MSG and completely tore down the house. It is pretty clear that basketball is back in New York and the Knicks own the city thanks to "STAT and Melo."
However, at this point, the Nets do not have to own the city. They do not have to be at the Knicks' level right now. What they do have to be is relevant and not isolate their fans like they slowly have been doing since Kidd left town. Yesterday's acquisition was the right step and an excellent counterpunch to big brother's punch to the gut.
Basketball is alive in New York for the first time in years and slowly a rivalry is coming to life.