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Monday, July 1, 2013
Can Bargnani bar Brooklyn takeover?

By Johnette Howard
ESPNNewYork.com

The Knicks will help themselves by trading some underperforming players for Toronto 7-footer Andrea Bargnani when the deal can become official next week. The real question is whether Bargnani provides the sort of help the Knicks need. Their biggest motivation is something far bigger than winning the back pages. The Knicks have to start worrying -- this summer, not next -- about Carmelo Anthony opting out of his contract in 2014.

If the Knicks' goal was to amp up the rivalry with Brooklyn by answering the Nets' trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the Knicks will accomplish that by adding Bargnani. But they also acquired a one-trick player who seems to make Amar'e Stoudemire even more redundant than he's been since Melo arrived.

Andrea Bargnani
Andrea Bargnani could be a key factor in keeping Carmelo Anthony and Knicks fans around MSG.

For now, the sure takeaway is the Nets-Knicks rivalry feels more genuine now than ever, as opposed to something we were supposed to believe existed only because the Nets moved across the Brooklyn Bridge. Finally, the Nets are a real threat to what the Knicks have always enjoyed waving in the Nets' faces, even when the Nets were posting better records: The right to boast sole ownership of the basketball hearts and minds of New York City.

Better yet, if it's drama you like, the Nets' new guys couldn't be more diabolically perfect Knicks antagonists.

Garnett and Pierce have a long history of beating the Knicks, even before Anthony tried to fight Garnett by the team bus last season. Now they'll get to co-conspire with Kidd, who will be cast this coming season as a Garden turncoat who knows all the Knicks' inside secrets after spending last season as a player there. Who knew he'd walk away from the last two years on his contract to become the Nets' head coach just nine days later?

The transfusion of desperately needed toughness that Garnett, Pierce and Kidd will bring the core players the Nets didn't trade away -- Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez -- was reason alone for them to take this deal rather than worry about the very short window they have to win with Garnett (37) and Pierce (36 in October).

The Nets made this deal because of the galling way they curled up and went away in Game 7 against the Chicago Bulls. They made it because of something GM Billy King said with a smirk the afternoon Kidd was introduced as coach: "A lot of the Bulls players weren't that tough, either, until [coach Tom] Thibodeau showed up."

So again, the Knicks-Nets rivalry would've escalated whether Bargnani was coming or not. All his expected arrival does is feed the suspicion that the Nets now have the Knicks sweating a little.

It also feeds questions about what the Knicks' front office could be thinking. Unloading Steve Novak and Marcus Camby was laudable. But why acquire a 7-footer who plays like a 6-3 swingman when you just lost in the playoffs to a rougher, tougher Pacers team that isn't going away, and you have to worry about a Bulls team that you didn't beat all season, and will now be even more versatile with Derrick Rose back? Why add another injury-prone, high-paid player who limits your roster flexibility when you just suffered through an injury-plagued season? And why trade away a first-round draft pick and two second-rounders while you're at it and let this move -- for this particular guy -- shove you over the luxury-tax threshold?

The last two gripes are most easily dismissed. By 2016, when the surrendered first-round pick would come due, nearly everyone associated with this Knicks team could be gone or fired if Anthony leaves. So it might as well be a pick in 2030 for all the current regime cares. And as for the money, seriously, have you not been paying attention to all the buyouts and busts Knicks owner James Dolan paid for over the years? The Garden prints money.

The biggest looming problem for the Knicks is it's not too early for them to start worrying that Anthony can opt out of his contract, same as LeBron James can leave the Heat.

The Knicks have to make it appealing for Anthony to stay if they want to avoid being dragged through the sort of sweepstakes that Lakers rental Dwight Howard is holding for his suitors this week. Having Anthony headline the second-best team in New York would not accomplish that.

Bargnani does give the Knicks some needed scoring, which they'll crave even more acutely if free-agent sixth man J.R. Smith decides the extra millions he can get elsewhere are irresistible. And Bargnani does fit coach Mike Woodson's love of the 3-point shot and philosophy of stretching defenses.

This move also attempts to address the substantial wailing to get Melo more help that rose up as the Pacers were eliminating the Knicks from the playoffs. But remember, there was also wailing that Tyson Chandler didn't have enough help to stop the Pacers' deeper collection of inside players by himself. And this trade does nothing to address that.

Then there's also the role confusion that having both Bargnani and Stoudemire creates. Stoudemire easily has the better career scoring average (21.3 to 15.2 PPG), rebounding mark (8.6 to 4.8 RPG) and inside game. He's even said he'll return to work with Hakeem Olajuwon on his post moves for a second straight summer. His injury history -- like Bargnani's -- may drive you crazy. But it's hard to question Stoudemire's commitment.

Bargnani is a different story. He drove the Raptors' previous GM, Bryan Colangelo, to distraction by playing as if he was allergic to venturing into the paint, and he was sometimes accused of not always being in great shape.

The bottom line? It's hard to see the Knicks capturing scads of new fans by adding a player who inspires a marketing slogan like, "If you dislike Amar'e's game, you'll really hate Bargnani's!" Hell, Garnett's mouth might write it for them.

Bargnani will score. And we'll see if it's enough to keep the Knicks from being overtaken by the Nets in the standings and when it comes to who owns the city.

But if you're a Knicks fan, you have to hope the Knicks have more up their sleeve than this. And if you root for the Nets? Gloat.

So far, you're winning the offseason.