To make it in New York sports talk radio, you must have bravado. You have to be prone to hyperbole. You have to be part demagogue / part provocateur. And most importantly, you have to be steadfast and loud in your opinions, no matter what or how far-fetched. To that end, the most recent trade between the Brooklyn Nets and the Boston Celtics has set the radio airwaves afire. The Nets have addressed their biggest weakness – their lack of toughness and veteran leadership. Now, according to the on-air personalities, not only did they leapfrog the New York Knicks (wait, I thought they had done that already last year), the Nets are now ready to take on LeBron James and the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.
Obtaining talented players who are past their prime is a time-honored strategy in sports. It has had mixed results. I suppose why teams continue down this path is because we all remember when it works. And we forget when it doesn’t. That is all well and good except that two high-profile teams just tried this approach last season. One of them, the cross-town Knicks, were up against the salary cap, so they could only get players who would accept the veterans’ minimum salary, e.g.: players who have been out of the NBA for a while. But with a full season with their two established stars, the bar was set to not only exceed the very poor performances the franchise has had over the past 14 years, but to win multiple playoff rounds and put up a respectable showing against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals. On the other hand, the Los Angeles Lakers were able to make multiple trades to land two of the biggest stars of the game (to accompany their very own superstar). The Lakers were the prohibitive favorite to win the Western Conference. And the pundits in most media – local, national, TV, radio, internet – already handed them the Larry O’Brien trophy for the 2012/2013 season. At least the Knicks came close to reaching their goal.
There are two things about the Nets that strike me as hilarious. The first part is their obsession with the Knicks. It is the same obsession that consume the New York Mets, the New York Jets, and to a lesser extent, the New York Islanders. (I assume the same holds true for the Los Angeles Clippers. I want to say that Manchester City feels the same way, but I could be wrong. I’m not sure about the Chicago White Sox, however.) In 2012, when they resigned Deron Williams, and traded for Joe Johnson, almost all of the prognosticators, pundits, writers, and talk show hosts predicted that the Nets would have a better record than the Knicks. They hedged their bets by stating that the margin was very slim; that the difference would be no more than 3 or 4 wins. The bottom line was that they all painted a picture of the Nets, due to their advantages in youth and roster depth, entering into their brand-spanking-new arena, punking the Knicks, and immediately establishing superiority and bragging rights within the city limits. On paper, the results of the 2012/’13 season wasn’t too bad for the Nets. They split their season series with the Knicks with two wins apiece; they finished with 49 regular season wins – good for 2nd place in the Atlantic Division, and 4th place overall in the Eastern Conference. But they fell short in the primary goal – winning the back pages of the local tabloids, and winning the hearts and minds of the casual basketball fan in the New York marketplace.
The second hilarious aspect lies with the hypocrisy of the media. The same “experts” who criticized the Knicks’ off-seasons movies of signing over-the-hill players due to the high risk of injury, and now lauding the Nets trade for the 35-year-old Paul Pierce and the 37-year-old Kevin Garnett. From listening to theses folks, the idea of an injury curtailing either one of these two from reaching their career or even last season’s averages is inconceivable. But seriously, injuries to Dwight Howard and Steve Nash derailed the Lakers’ season, and injuries ultimately caught up to the Knicks – even if that time was as late as the 2nd round of the playoffs. Right now, rookie head coach Jason Kidd is in his honeymoon stage with the media. Let us see if Kidd can keep the fans and media on his side if and when the Nets hit a sustained losing streak.
To a certain extent, I understand the vitriol against the Knicks. Whether it is the rational hatred of their owner, or the irrational hatred of the city they represent, Knicks hatred, personified by TNT’s Charles Barkley has become a cottage industry. But to pretend that the Nets are still an underdog that reside in a “hipster village” within a small market is comically ludicrous. I can tell you from first-hand experience that the cost of living in the hipster village of downtown Brooklyn is just as expensive as living in downtown Manhattan. So for those who are concerned if Mr Pierce and Mr Garnett can find their way from their condos in Williamsburg, or Park Slope, or DUMBO to the victory parade on Flatbush Ave, I’m here to tell you that if you believe that, perhaps I can interest you in a certain bridge that connects the rival boroughs….