The Nets Focus on Themselves, Not the Knicks


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The view from the eighth floor at the Nets’ new Brooklyn training center, scheduled to open in February.

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Richard Perry/The New York Times

Two days before the recent N.B.A. draft, the Nets hosted a tour of their new training ground — the Hospital for Special Surgery Training Center in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn.

With the 70,000-square-foot training center scheduled to open in February, a lot was left to the imagination as Tony Brasile, the Nets’ director of operations, described how the space would be used: two full basketball courts, weight rooms, a training pool, two hydro pools, a multimedia theater and 3,000 square feet of lounge space for the players.

While envisioning how the place would look when completed required imagination, the layout offered breathtaking views: Brooklyn to the north and east, New Jersey to the west and the most stunning vista of all — New York Harbor and the Lower Manhattan skyline.

This is a fitting, and perhaps motivational, view for a franchise that has circled, chased and pursued the Knicks virtually from its founding in 1967.

When the Knicks sneeze, everyone cares.

The Nets? Not so much.

“We don’t consume ourselves with the Knicks,” Billy King, the Nets’ general manager, said in a recent interview. “We can’t control what they do or how people perceive them. We just have to control what we can do.”

Forbes magazine deemed the Knicks nearly twice as valuable as the Nets. Yet the Knicks continue to do as much as they can to keep the Nets within striking distance.

In Phil Jackson’s rookie season as team president, the Knicks finished 17-65 — the worst record in franchise history.

The Nets, with King in his fourth season as general manager, reached the playoffs and pushed the heavily favored Atlanta Hawks to six games in their first-round series.

While the Knicks are being pilloried in some circles for making the 7-foot-1 project Kristaps Porzingis their first-round selection on draft day, the Nets, paying the price for a win-at-all-cost imperative three years ago, quietly made moves to keep their playoff window open.

In a trade on Thursday, they sent Mason Plumlee, a former first-round pick, to Portland, along with the second-round pick Pat Connaughton, for the Trail Blazers’ first-round pick, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and the veteran point guard Steve Blake.

In contrast with the Knicks’ situation, there was no tempest, no buzz.

In 2002 and 2003, the Nets, then playing in New Jersey and led by Jason Kidd, made back-to-back appearances in the N.B.A. finals. Hollis-Jefferson, growing up in Chester, Pa., became a lifelong Kidd fan.

“There was something about Jason Kidd’s game I gravitated to,” he said.

King said that while he appreciated Plumlee’s contribution during the past two years, the Nets needed to become more athletic. And at times during the playoffs, King said, he felt the Nets were a defender short. With Thaddeus Young, who joined the Nets midseason, and now Hollis-Jefferson, the Nets have versatile, athletic frontcourt players.

“I thought he was the best defender in the draft,” King said of Hollis-Jefferson, a 6-foot-7 forward from Arizona.

The operative word here is “playoffs.” The Nets made them, and the Knicks, once again, did not. The Nets’ goal has never been to snatch turf from the Knicks. Sharing a sliver of the spotlight would suffice.

But the door is open for the Nets, perhaps as never before, to make inroads into the hearts of New York basketball fans who are skeptical of Jackson’s short- and long-term plans. His blueprint is based on patience and hope, but it is missing Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, or Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.

Jackson seems to be on a mission to show that it was his system, as much as great players, that made him a Hall of Fame coach. The Nets’ burden is much simpler. The front office has to tread water with a core of veteran players during the next two seasons.

The organization is paying the price for Mikhail D. Prokhorov’s ambitious plan to capture the N.B.A. championship right off the bat by bringing in high-priced, high-profile and over-the-hill veterans like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Prokhorov wanted to make a splash and serve notice to the Knicks.

The Nets did not win the championship, and Garnett and Pierce are gone. If Brook Lopez, who opted out of his Nets contract on Friday, does not re-sign, then all that will be left of the core will be the inconsistent, and sometimes unmotivated, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson.

While the Knicks grabbed headlines with their selection, the Nets quietly did as much as they could with what they had.

“This night is probably one of the best nights for me,” King said as Thursday night turned into Friday morning. “You get a lot of chances to make the team better, and then free agency is on the way.”

As King prepared to leave, I brought up the tour of the practice complex and asked about the aspirational view of Manhattan.

King replied, “You can look at Jersey, too, and you can look at Brooklyn.”

The Nets, he insisted, are not focused on the Knicks. After a full day of drafts and trades, King was in no mood to discuss that other New York team.

“The Knicks are always going to be the Knicks,” King said. “It’s like the Yankees are always going to be the Yankees; the Lakers are going to be the Lakers. I think there’s room for both.”

Perhaps there is. The Knicks continue to provide opportunities for the Nets to gain ground.

Correction: June 27, 2015

An earlier version of this article misstated the length of the playoff series between the Brooklyn Nets and the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks defeated the Nets in six games, not seven.



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