The New York Knicks were tracking the blow-by-blow news updates that rolled into Tuesday evening about the Nets' switchback-filled attempts to dramatically reshape their franchise. But the Knicks still should have been left privately feeling that they've got no worries about losing the city to the Brooklyn-bound rivals if -- and it's a big if -- all the Nets end up with is trading for Joe Johnson, the shooting guard with the max contract that Atlanta was only too happy to move on down the road.
Combining both players with Gerald Wallace makes the Nets better. But the Nets' ability to land Howard is the only nuclear option the Knicks should really fear.
Howard-to-Brooklyn is the one bombshell that could stop the Knicks from sitting there all smug and happy with themselves, gloating about how they recovered from losing the LeBron James sweepstakes by adding Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, while the Nets, remember, actually had Howard say he wanted to play only for them -- something LeBron never said to the Knicks. And then the Nets still didn't get Howard to Brooklyn?
Just Joe Johnson?
So it's "Eh" for now, all right. But stay tuned. Let's see whether the sky-is-falling predictions about the Knicks' loss of their death grip on this city turn out to be greatly exaggerated.
Howard stomped his feet this latest time and said he'd sign a long-term deal only with Brooklyn. But nobody seems to be listening to him. It appears he's been told to go stand in a corner while the Magic reportedly entertain offers from the Lakers, Houston and others, not just the Nets.
If the Nets don't have Howard, the Knicks still have more cachet, the more storied history, the more desirable venue and a potentially better team.
After too many years of wandering in the wilderness themselves, the Knicks showed more signs of turning the corner than the 22-44 Nets did this past season, even with Deron Williams aboard. And Johnson's arrival isn't enough to dramatically change that dynamic. Especially not if the Knicks can somehow figure out a way to keep the depth general manager Glen Grunwald built by claiming waiver-wire finds Steve Novak and Jeremy Lin, and perhaps add a nice piece such as Steve Nash (despite the lucrative contract offer Toronto has already thrown at him).
The fact that Nash will be 38 next season is a concern, all right. So is trying to imagine him guarding Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo ( and even John Wall) in the East. The best antidote to that nightmare might be sending Iman Shumpert a card that says, "Get well soon."
But there is still an argument to be made for Nash-to-the-Knicks beyond the obvious observation that Nash has a lot of good basketball left in him. It goes something like this: If you haven't noticed, the Knicks could use a veteran point guard who, unlike Lin, has the guts and the chops and the hard-earned respect to come downcourt, see Melo calling for the ball for the zillionth time in a row and ignore him if that's not the right play -- then get in Melo's grill should he hiss and moan and call him out for it.
Nash -- much like Rondo with Boston's Big Three, or even Derek Fisher -- has the gravitas to do that. But Lin, who plans to visit Houston on Wednesday?
What Lin's meteoric rise as a playmaker this past season did show is the Knicks badly need an on-court arbiter if Anthony, Stoudemire and Chandler, the hands-down strength of the team, are going to mesh as well as possible. (I'm in that dwindling group that still believes, with the right point guard, they can.) Remember, when Lin was hurt or not here yet, the Knicks' big three were worse.
And beyond that? If the Knicks lose Landry Fields to Toronto -- which made him a three-year, $20 million contract offer that New York can match -- he will be missed. But it won't be the end of the world. He was going to lose his job to Shumpert anyway if Shumpert comes back well from his ACL surgery. It would be just a matter of when.
So again, if a Deron Williams-Joe Johnson-Gerald Wallace trio is all the Nets end up with, it should stay "Eh" from the Knicks for now. The only way all the blood drains from their faces and they grow so paranoid they imagine all the subways are carrying fans over the East River toward the Nets' new arena on Flatbush Avenue, never to stop at 34th Street again, is if Howard somehow lands in Brooklyn.
Then the Knicks' refrain changes from "Eh" to "Oh no," all right. Panic would ensue. And Knicks owner James Dolan will suddenly find himself fronting more than just a garage band that's apt to sing the blues.