The future is finally looking brighter for the Knicks and Nets, but which of the struggling franchises will get that elusive NBA title first?
The Knicks and Nets were both participants and losers in this season’s LeBron James sweepstakes. The Knicks, however, were able to land one of the other big fish in the market by reeling in Amare Stoudemire, the former Phoenix Suns All-Star.
Stoudemire joins a Knicks team that finished 29-53 and has not reached the playoffs since the 2003-2004 season. Not since the 1972-1973 season have the Knicks brought a championship to the Big Apple.
But Knicks fans finally have reason to be somewhat optimistic, even if dreams of watching James play alongside Stoudemire or Chris Bosh on the Madison Square Garden floor were quickly replaced by nightmares of Bosh and James joining Dwyane Wade in South Beach. After all, Stoudemire is a five-time All-Star himself, and at only 27 years old, he is in the midst of his basketball prime.
There is no doubt the big man is going to produce. The question lies in what supporting cast the Knicks can surround him with, particularly since it’s hard to imagine a big man, like Stoudemire, carrying a team single-handedly — as if anyone can, really. If Stoudemire couldn’t win with Steve Nash, and even Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson at one point, it is simply outlandish to think he can bring a title to New York with the Knicks' current crop of players — no matter what upside they all have.
The Knicks also signed point guard Raymond Felton this offseason to a two-year deal worth nearly $16 million. Felton helped take the Charlotte Bobcats from the cellar to a solid team in the East. The former 2005 first-round pick has averaged 13.3 points per game and 6.4 assists per game in his five NBA seasons. For what it’s worth, he was probably the best point guard available on the open market.
The Knicks also have 23-year-old Wilson Chandler, who averaged 15.3 points per game last season, and Danilo Gallinari, who averaged 15.1 points per game and doesn’t turn 22 until Aug. 8. Add veteran swingman Tracy McGrady to the mix, and you could have a formidable starting five. But there are no guarantees McGrady – an unrestricted free agent — will re-sign with the Knicks.
As it stands right now, the Knicks’ starters include Felton, Kelenna Azubuike, Stoudemire and Ronny Turiaf. With seven-footer Timofey Mozgov, Eddy Curry, the high-flying Bill Walker and the highly-touted Anthony Randolph coming off the bench, among others, New York could have a playoff team in the East.
But a championship team? That’s a stretch.
The best chance for the Knicks to reach the NBA Finals will likely be in 2011 or 2012, when they will once again be able to open their checkbooks in an attempt to lure in the top free agents. Carmelo Anthony is slated to be the top dog in 2011’s free-agency bonanza, and New York could be a possible landing spot. Acquire Chris Paul in a trade at some point and then you are talking title contenders.
As for the Nets, let’s just say their owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, has made it perfectly clear that anything but a championship under his regime will be a failure. The Russian billionaire said that he expects New Jersey to not only win a title, but to do so within the next five years. That’s a bold statement for a guy who owns a team that won 12 games last season.
But how far-fetched is it, exactly?
While the Nets are not title contenders, and don’t even appear to be playoff contenders just yet, they do have some core pieces in place that make them an intriguing team moving forward.
Devin Harris, Brook Lopez and Derrick Favors are clearly the cornerstones of the Nets' rebuilding efforts. They also have some solid pieces in Terrence Williams, Anthony Morrow and the recently-acquired Travis Outlaw. With the attraction of a win-at-all-cost ownership and a new facility on the horizon, they too could be players in free agency in the upcoming years.
But it comes down to this: The Nets are supposed to be good in the future. Harris and Lopez have proven that they are solid NBA players. But we have yet to see Favors play in an NBA game, and we are judging him solely on potential.
The Knicks, on the other hand, have a superstar (Stoudemire) locked up for at least five years, as well as some solid pieces in place around him. What the Knicks ultimately have to do to do, though, to ensure that they will become a championship team soon enough is continue hyping up the allure of playing in the Big Apple.
Both teams might have a deep wallet again in free agency next season, but the bright lights of New York City will shine brighter than those of Brooklyn. An Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul trio may seem like a pipe dream now, but it could soon become a reality.
The Nets' owner may have promised a championship within five years, but the Knicks could be on the verge of achieving that goal even sooner.