Before yesterday, Mikhail Prokhorov’s three greatest NBA accomplishments were Anthony Morrow, Travis Outlaw and Johan Petro. He had whiffed on every superstar to come down the pike, and people continued to give him the benefit of the doubt, as if there were secret cloak-and-dagger Russian backchannels to Leon Rose’s house that would somehow reel in a big fish. My attitude during all this: wake me up when he does something. Anything at all. The guy still owns the Nets, after all.
Well, he finally did something, and the Knicks would appear to have some egg on their faces as they watch their would-be rivals acquire a superstar at half the price and a tenth of the commotion. That’s not to say it’s a great deal for the Nets – Deron Williams was apparently shocked by the deal, and we’ll have to wait and see if he elects to stick around.
Still, it’s surprising the Knicks didn’t find their way into these negotiations given the price they paid for Carmelo Anthony, and their willingness to part with Raymond Felton. The Salt Lake Tribune also reported that New Jersey was the only real contender for Williams. But the Nets ponied up Devin Harris, Derrick Favors and two #1’s; isn’t a package of Felton, Chandler and a #1 a pretty good start to getting something done? The Knicks ended up surrendering Gallinari, Mozgov, Curry and Randolph (and of course, received Chauncey Billups, who really held the team together last night against the Bucks). Seems to me that three or even just two of those guys, together with the rest of the package, might have equaled the Nets’ offer.
I can’t believe Donnie Walsh was caught totally unawares by this deal. Utah knew all along the Knicks were in the market for a superstar; to not at least let New York know of Williams’ availability would be asinine. I think the Knicks knew something was going down, made a value judgment on Melo and D-Will, and decided something in the Williams deal was amiss. I don’t blame them: when a coach of 23 years decides to retire mid-season, the red flag should be raised on the team’s star. Also, unlike the Melo trade, this was not an “extend and trade,” and to me it’s a little fishy that Utah would so quickly accept the rental fee for their star. Should the Jazz, with one guaranteed year still left on Williams’ deal, really be in a rush to trade him this week, before the new CBA is announced?
I know Knicks fans are a little stunned by what’s being played up as Prokhorov’s shot across the bow, but to me this reeks of: a) the Knicks simply deciding to move in another direction, and b) the Nets’ desperation. This isn’t Pearl Harbor, the archduke’s assassination, or a declaration of war. This is a team that’s desperate for relevance taking a flier on a superstar at a slightly discounted price, because everyone knows he just ran his legendary coach out of town. And since I just brought it up, I can’t wait to see how he reacts when Avery Johnson is screaming at him.
Utah’s ushering Williams out the door also changes the scope of the Anthony dealings a bit. If you assume the Knicks knew Williams was on the outs – and I do – and if you assume they consciously chose to pursue Melo over D-Will – and I do – that makes one fewer superstar available in 2012 free agency, and that makes the Knicks that much more desperate to lock up Melo now. You could even argue the Knicks also viewed Dwight Howard as a poor fit on a team that already has Amar’e Stoudemire, and didn’t want to forego Melo to put all their eggs in the CP3 basket.
I think the Knicks come out of this looking just fine. They’ve gone their own way and they’re a couple of hidden gems from title contention. The Nets may have acquired a star for less, but they still run the risk of losing him and they still aren’t making the playoffs. If anything, the move does a little more to justify Melo’s price, and shows the difference between confidence and desperation.
While we’re here, a quick word on this Cold War that people seem to be drumming up between the Knicks and Nets. In addition to being a Mets and Knicks fan – so I know about bad teams – I also live in Boston, a city that despite having four excellent pro sports teams nevertheless retains its well-deserved inferiority complex about New York. These people are still far, far too excited about any New York failure. So my advice to Knicks fans: let the Nets actually achieve something before you give them the time of day. Do not dignify them as rivals. Do not make Prokhorov out to be some mad Russian genius when you wouldn’t think twice about him if he were from California. Treat them with casual indifference, and then, if and when they achieve something, respect. I’ve been on the other side of this too many times; Nets fans, like Mets fans and Red Sox fans, just want to be noticed. Let’s not get our knickers in a twist over a rivalry that doesn’t exist.