Commentary

Knicks losing their grip on New York

The Nets are winning the offseason battles. Will they win the war for N.Y., too?

Updated: July 9, 2012, 10:36 PM ET
By Stephen A. Smith | ESPNNewYork.com

The New York Knicks appear to be precisely what we thought they would be all along: a team with two highly paid stars, saddled with high expectations but destined for nonexistence in the pantheon of championship contenders. The thing is, those assumptions were made with the belief the Knicks would simply be second-class citizens in the Eastern Conference.

Not playing second fiddle in their own city.

Yet here we are a week into NBA free agency and, before basketball even matters again, the Knicks already find themselves inching toward irrelevancy. Sure, it's nice that they'll officially land Jason Kidd this week, nabbing themselves an experienced floor general capable of nurturing their point guard of the future in Jeremy Lin. But anyone who thinks the roster in Manhattan is better than the one already assembled in Brooklyn might need to visit their nearest eye doctor.

Make no mistake, it was the Brooklyn Nets making news this week instead of the New York Knicks. Not only did the Nets re-sign Deron Williams to $98 million over the next five years, but they pulled off a trade for a six-time All-Star guard in Joe Johnson, assembling one of the top three backcourts in the entire NBA.

Couple that with the Nets having the tough and rugged Gerald Wallace as their small forward to buffer a front line that, for the moment, includes Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries, and the possibility that they may not get Dwight Howard doesn't appear so ominous after all.

"It was a tough decision," Williams told reporters following his decision to remain with the Nets. "I was really close to heading to Dallas, but I looked at the pieces we had here."

We know what pieces the Knicks have. And history alone should tell us the picture isn't that pretty at 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue.

As of Sunday night, the Nets were talking to Lopez's agent, Arn Tellem, who's seeking somewhere in the area of the four-year, $58 million deal the Portland Trail Blazers offered to Indiana's restricted free-agent center, Roy Hibbert. That's while simultaneously waiting for the Orlando Magic to finally pull the trigger on a deal that would bring Howard to Brooklyn, essentially for Lopez, MarShon Brooks and three first-round picks.

In other words, the Nets are making moves -- staking claim to the hearts and minds of a city they deem vulnerable and starving for a contender.

The roster is better in Brooklyn. So is the new Barclays Center. Some would say even the uniforms are better. And from the looks of things, the record will be, too.

"We'll be just fine," Knicks center Tyson Chandler told me weeks ago. "We know we need to move in a forward direction, and that's exactly what we'll do. I'm not worried about us."

The rest of us should be.

Steve Nash chose the Los Angeles Lakers. Goran Dragic chose the Phoenix Suns. Dwight Howard has never mentioned the Knicks. Jamal Crawford ended up with the Los Angeles Clippers. J.R. Smith has contemplated opting out of his deal in New York. And the Knicks' newest 39-year-old point guard is bragging about how he's looking forward to coming off the bench.

The Knicks can go out and match the $28.8 million offer Jeremy Lin received from Houston, but what does that change? Although he can score, particularly because he can get into the lane, he's still suspect, at best. Far from a given as the point guard of the future.

So no matter how it's sliced, the question needs to be asked:

How much faith is a city supposed to have in a point guard who wouldn't play in the playoffs because, he said, "I'm only about 85 percent ready." And this was before Lin pulled out of participating with Team USA due to his contract status.

And there's still the issue of Amare Stoudemire's bad back, bad knees and bad psyche, considering that he had to sit around and watch as Carmelo Anthony stole all of his shine. There's the issue of the Knicks being devoid of a legitimate shooting guard to rely upon on a night-in, night-out basis. There's also the issue of a bench, which the Knicks are relatively devoid of, along with their apparent inability to recruit effectively, since anyone of consequence continues to choose someone else.

"The goal is to get better," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said recently. "We know what we need to do, but we're also aware of the teams we're set to go up against. The key is to continue to improve. To make sure we don't just stand pat. We're going for it."

Forgive Woodson if he failed to elaborate on what "it" means.

After all, this is the same Knicks franchise that had confetti descending from the rafters after one playoff victory -- their first in a decade. It's the same Knicks team saddled in a division in which the Boston Celtics are clearly better and in a conference with the Miami Heat.

The Celtics acquired Jason Terry and re-signed Kevin Garnett. That allowed them to afford to part ways with Ray Allen, who now cements the Heat as prohibitive favorites to capture next year's NBA championship. There's still Chicago and ...

"... Brooklyn," Williams said, upon announcing his deal. "I think we've got a chance to be really good."

Certainly better than the Knicks.

Stephen A. Smith | email

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Stephen A. Smith is a featured columnist for ESPNNewYork.com, a co-host on First Take" and a regular on "SportsCenter."

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