The Brooklyn Nets held a press conference on Thursday to introduce their newest acquisitions: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry, acquired on draft night for Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Gerald Wallace and three draft picks. It was a slightly surreal and low-key affair, with Kevin Garnett in real offseason mode, joking and saying positive things, Jason Terry expressing the same bold confidence he has always had, and Paul Pierce clearly still emotionally conflicted about leaving Boston.
After questions from the media, the Nets PR manager in charge of the event said a special guest had arrived and wanted to say "Hi."
And out walked Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, dressed like a rock star, smiling for the cameras, and shaking hands with the newest weapons in his War for New York. It seemed like a nice opportunity for a photo op, a way to make the new players feel welcome ... and a way to send a message to Prokhorov's basketball rival, James Dolan, owner of the Knicks.
The Nets and Knicks started circling each other immediately after Prokhorov bought the team. He bought billboards outside Madison Square Garden to pitch free agents that were meeting with the Knicks in 2010. There have been constant messages from the Nets about the Knicks rivalry. And despite the Knicks' hesitance to get dragged down into it, they have. The Nets' moves this summer signify an escalation in the conflict.
This thing is officially on.
Both teams took steps forward in the offseason, but Brooklyn's moves are sure to spark a lot of smack talk from fans and quietly from the teams themselves. Every move the cap-strapped Knicks seemed to make was an attempt to respond to the Nets. And in that volleyball match, the Nets dominated.
The Nets got Garnett, Pierce and Terry.
The Nets got Andrei Kirilenko, one of the best multi-position defenders in the league last year.
The Knicks got Metta World Peace, who's still good, but has lost a big step from his prime.
The Nets took a massive step forward, addressing their defensive concerns while adding depth and veteran leadership.
The Knicks kind of stumbled forward.
Last season, New York was the better team based on record, thanks mostly to a blistering, unsustainable November and a white-hot, completely outside the realm of sustainability April. But the Knicks crashed to earth in a fiery mess in the playoffs. The Nets, meanwhile, had a good year, and had good momentum going into the playoffs, then came completely unhinged against the Bulls.
(Side note: The hilarity of how important this rivalry seems in the NBA cultural sphere really stands out when you consider that both of the teams that beat New York and Brooklyn in the playoffs, Chicago and Indiana, are likely to finish ahead of those teams next year.)
But it's clear that this has become the NBA rivarly of note. Indiana, for all its basketball brilliance and engaging stars, hasn't captured the imagination of the country, for whatever reason. It's proof enough that the NBA world revolves around the major market that Deron Williams is considered more interesting than Roy Hibbert.
The arms race between New York and Brooklyn will result in luxury tax payments between the two teams of over $150 million next season. There's no stopping them. This is like the basketball version of Pacific Rim. To defeat a super team, the Nets created a superteam of their own. (Miami is Monsters University in this scenario, actually walking away with the box office numbers.)
At the press conference a reporter said, and I'm not kidding, he actually said this, "In order to win the NBA title, you have to win the battle of New York first."
There were concerns going into last year that the Nets-Knicks rivalry would feel forced. And for the most part, it kind of was. Neither team really said it was a real rivalry. Carmelo Anthony, the biggest star between the two teams, laughed it off, and the Nets were widely considered to be missing something engaging in the "heart" department. The addition of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, along with their baggage with Anthony last year, represents a heart transplant.
It is forced. It is bought and paid for. The two teams are really more desperate attempts at marketability and the appearance of contention than real challengers to the throne. (LeBron James is not shaking in his sneakers over these teams.) But at some point, the way both teams tried too hard to make themselves relevant has worked.
There's a real rivalry in Brooklyn, and finally it's more than a marketing ploy. Two billionaires have put their giant robots into play in a massive video game. Next season we'll see if either one has built something big enough to conquer anything more than New York.