The intra-city rivalry between the Knicks and Nets took off briefly last summer when the Nets usurped the Knicks' throne as the most attractive team to play for in New York.
Brooklyn managed to sign superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and earn respect for the progress the organization has made, from an afterthought to a potential superstar destination.
The rivalry, though, has been non-existent with Durant out for the season, Irving playing just 20 games, and the Knicks being, well, the Knicks.
Still, even with Durant and Irving, the Nets have a multitude of questions concerning whether acquiring them will lead to sustainable success.
The Knicks have a young roster, so they do have a chance to catch up with the Nets. A lot can change. Here are some of the major factors in evaluating who will be the better franchise in three years.
The Kevin Durant Question
The biggest "if" at the center of where both teams will be is the health of Durant. A two-time NBA Champion and MVP, Durant is one of the greatest players in NBA history. His legacy is cemented already. Coming off an Achilles tear and at the age of 32 next season, there are questions of whether Durant will be anywhere close to what he was before his injury. Historically, most players experience major drop-offs in production and/or efficiency after an Achilles tear. Can Durant buck that trend?
The Knicks have amassed a collection of young players. They have eight players who are on their first NBA contracts. It's great to have young talent, but the Knicks have had a shaky track record with developing their prospects. Recent lottery pick RJ Barrett has promise, but he's had a lukewarm rookie season. Center Mitchell Robinson fits the role of impact center and future defensive lynchpin.
The Nets have their own small group of young players, but besides Jarrett Allen, none of their recent draft picks have made any noise. Rodions Kurucs has seemed to take a step back in his second NBA season after showing signs of emerging as a key rotation player in his rookie campaign.
The Knicks have experienced constant upheavals in their front office over the past decade.
Now, the hope is that Leon Rose can change the path of a Knicks franchise that hasn't qualified for the postseason since 2013.
For the Nets, general manager Sean Marks has done a quality job since he was hired in 2016. Arriving to a team with limited assets after a devastating trade with the Boston Celtics, Marks managed to replenish Brooklyn's cache of assets while discovering diamonds in the rough like Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert and Allen.
The Nets made their big free agency splash this past summer, and signing Durant, Irving and DeAndre Jordan will take up over 60 percent of Brooklyn's salary cap next year. Contract extensions for LeVert and Taurean Prince have taken the team to the luxury tax. Brooklyn will now likely have to make quality draft picks and signings on the fringe of free agency to improve the roster.
Sharpshooter Harris will be an unrestricted free agent and there is a legitimate chance that the wing finds multiple suitors to pluck him away from Brooklyn. Allen will be up for a contract extension this summer, and if he and the Nets can't agree to a deal, he will likely be a restricted free agent in the summer of 2021. Does it make sense to invest in Allen with Jordan owed $30 million over the next three seasons?
Though the Knicks have struck out on superstar free agent after superstar free agent, they have kept their future flexibility. New York could sign a max free agent in 2021 (hint, hint, Giannis Antetokounmpo) and they still have all of their future first-round picks as well as two first-rounders from the Dallas Mavericks and one from the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Knicks and Nets are both in similar situations. After both teams parted ways with their head coaches this season, they each have an interim head coach in place until the offseason. Both teams will be looking to find a coach suitable to their needs.
Stability is a main issue for the Knicks -- New York has not had a coach last for a full three seasons since Mike D'Antoni had the job for three and a half years.
Before he was let go, Kenny Atkinson was coming off a three-and-a-half year stretch with Brooklyn. As former NBA coach and current NBA analyst Stan Van Gundy mentioned recently, the Nets are a much more stable organization, so it would be a more attractive situation for higher-profile coaches. The idea of coaching Durant and Irving alone is more attractive than what the Knicks currently have to offer.
Nets owner Joe Tsai has allowed Marks the full autonomy to make the basketball decisions to take the Nets to where they are now. All Tsai has to do is the bare minimum. Don't throw fans out of the arena for childish reasons. Don't alienate season ticket holders. And please, don't start a blues-rock band. As long as Tsai follows these golden rules, he should be fine.
Though the Knicks have some positives with the growth and development of Barrett and Robinson, the Nets have the two superstars. Though Durant will be 35 three seasons from now, Irving will still be 30 and in his prime. Brooklyn also has players such as Dinwiddie and LeVert who are much further along in their development and will also be in their primes in three years.
Even if one were to feel confident in Robinson and Barrett developing into All-Star caliber players, there's not much confidence in the Knicks organization to target the right players to build around that duo. The best hope for the Knicks is either through a high lottery pick or a free agent signing that rivals Durant or Irving.