After the weeks and months of updates, rumors, speculation and editorializing, the Knicks’ long-awaited trade for Carmelo Anthony (which prompted many a commentator to exclaim, “Our long national nightmare is finally over”) lasted 40 hours (if that) before arguably being eclipsed as the most impactful move last week by an NY-area NBA franchise. The Nets’ trade for Deron Williams gives them their first franchise-level player since they traded for Jason Kidd 10 years ago (no, Vince Carter doesn’t count). It also gives them arguably a better overall player than Anthony (not as prolific a scorer, but a more efficient one, a significantly better passer and at least as good a defender), and one with perhaps more upside (while they both turn 27 this year, Williams is in his 6th season while Anthony is in his 8th, which suggests that Williams has more of his prime ahead of him than Anthony does).
The Deron Williams trade does one more thing which could reverberate through NY-area basketball fandom for a long, long time to come; it squarely sets the stage for a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry between the two team, especially with the New Jersey Nets scheduled to move to their new arena in Brooklyn for the 2012-13 season.
In the end, the Knicks were able to win the first fight for Melo due strictly to their team’s brand and city appeal. The Williams trade though, announced to the basketball world, and to the Knicks in particular, that the Nets are indeed a player for big-name stars. This also sets the stage for some interesting dealings in the summer of 2012, by which time the Nets and their part-owner Jay-Z will call the Barclays Center home.
It is in that summer that Williams, along with Chris Paul and Dwight Howard,
will be eligible for free agency. Williams has a $17.8 million option for the 2012-13 season, and by all accounts the next collective bargaining agreement will, among other things, (1) limit the ability of teams to pay for other teams’ free agents and thus (2) make it easier for teams to re-sign their own. If nothing else, the odds are high that Williams will exercise the option. If, however, he doesn’t like the way the team’s direction is going at that point, then Williams could put himself in the open market, and the Knicks are certain to be one of the teams most highly interested in his services – would they dare steal from their neighbor in Brooklyn? More rumored to happen is the pursuit of CP3, which raises the possibility of the two premier point guards in the NBA both calling NY home (with apologies to Derrick Rose).
Imagine the buzz that Knicks-Nets games would generate if that happened. Of course, the Knicks could choose to focus their attention that summer on Howard – and so very well could the Nets. You may scoff at the Nets’ chances to signing Howard, but if they make more moves to add another star, either that summer or beforehand, while still retaining sufficient space under the salary cap – well, never say never (ok, “never”). In the end, the battles already waged, and still to be fought, between the ownership and front offices of the two teams are merely part of the ongoing battle for wins and for fans. On the latter count, the Knicks are generally thought to have an untouchable stranglehold on the allegiances of NY-area basketball fans. This will almost certainly be case in the Nets’ soon-to-be-former home of New Jersey, and may very well be so in Manhattan no matter what. But if the New Jersey Nets can develop an entertaining and successful team in their new stadium in Brooklyn, then one would have to think that fan allegiances there and in Queens (not to mention the rest of Long Island) could be in play.