COMMENTARY | This past season, the New York Knicks hosted their first playoff series since 2000. This came on the back of 54 wins, their most since 1997 and their first division title since 1994 -- the same season they went to the NBA Finals.
This year, it was a loss in the conference semifinals to the Indiana Pacers, but there's no question the Knicks took a step in the right direction.
It's safe to say that over a decade of futility was taken off the shoulders of the organization to a degree. There is success back in the place the Knicks and their fans feel it belongs -- the Mecca. The Garden. Does anybody want to give that up? Well, I certainly don't think so. I doubt anybody is satisfied. This is supposed to be the beginning of something bigger for the orange and blue.
The problem is that depending on whom you ask, the Atlantic already has a winner. Too many people (in my opinion) have called the cross-town rival Brooklyn Nets champions of the division.
Mikhail Prokhorov and the Nets brass have done a phenomenal job this offseason, no doubt. He has made a good team better by adding two future Hall of Famers in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. They are on the down-slope but could still have enough left in the tank for one more run; we won't know until we see. They and Jason Terry join a cast of talented players in Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez at the Barclays Center. They are certainly set up to be a force in the East and, if they come together, have a shot at a great run.
New York will always be a "Knicks town" due to the intertwining of the organization into such a large fan base over many decades. However, the Nets have the ability, for at least this season, to take away the division crown. The added bonus is being the top team in town.
Many people feel this is exactly what will happen as the Knicks made small moves in free agency, perhaps not improving all that much, while Metta World Peace is supposed to bring defense to the middle of the floor while Andrea Bargnani hopes to spread the floor and score for Mike Woodson. Brooklyn has made a huge splash and appeared to improve dramatically, but, according to way too many sports journalists, is beating out the Knicks in games that won't start until November.
Maybe those people will turn out to be right. It doesn't mean I or most of the Knicks fans agree, but on paper, let's just face it, the Nets may just look better.
Oh, but here is the kicker.
I just checked the Internet and found out games aren't played on paper. They happen in arenas with fans -- 82 of them, in fact, and THOSE decide who makes the playoffs or wins the division. You or I or any other media insider can say whatever we want, and we will, but we won't know until the season is played. The speculation finds a clear outcome as it appears both teams will be in close relative proximity of one another in the standings for most of the season.
This is where we should stop crowning any team, especially the team that doesn't hold the belt currently. The Knicks did what they had to last season in winning the division and have earned more than they are being given. If the Nets want the crown of NYC and the Atlantic division, they'll have to pry it from the Knicks' cold, dead hands.
The aforementioned milestones the Knickerbockers reached last season is surely not enough. Do we think Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith and the rest of the Knicks aren't out to prove more? Because, frankly, most of the talk around New York City sports has been sounding like this is Brooklyn's division to lose. Wrong.
Are we sure first-year head coach Jason Kidd will succeed right from the get-go? What about the question of four of the starting five wanting the ball and needing to learn how to play with one another? I'm definitely not saying the Nets do not have that ability, but I'm saying it hasn't happened yet. The Knicks are getting overlooked their own city.
I mean, they do have their own question marks, going in both positive and negative directions. Does Melo put up the numbers he did this past season? Are Chandler and Smith even capable of being that awful in the playoffs again? Does Metta or Bargnani bring anything to the table? And Amar'e? So on and so forth.
The thing is that the answers are assumed so far that the Nets will have success with their issues, and the Knicks mostly will not.
The Knicks will take their chances with a roster mostly made up of guys who are used to playing with one another. Who knows, that could be as much of an advantage as anything else. This rivals the Nets' roster of newly acquired talent jelled into "win [right] now" mode, which they hope will work with the outstanding, two-deep at every position group Billy King has assembled.
The rivalry will begin to reach its height as the season approaches. We should all look forward to four riveting yet still heart-wrenching games for some -- while Brooklyn and New York keep a firm eye on one another in the standings along the season's trail.
New York feels disrespected by the hype behind Brooklyn and will be out to prove that it is here to stay for more than just a season. At the same time, the Nets want to start a new reign in their name. Either way, the defending Atlantic division champion New York Knicks are going to remain atop this city and that division until they are knocked off.
The crown is theirs; in 2013-14, they'll surely look to do whatever necessary in order to keep it.
Brian Sausa is a Queens, New York native and has written about various NYC area teams for New York Sports world as well as worked in the Sports Information Department at the University at Albany. Twitter @BrianSausa.
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