The Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks had fans beefing on Twitter this summer, but the truth is that the Knicks are just as far away as their city rivals.
The New York Knicks were the best team in the city last season. That is true both based on their 29-53 record and their 4-0 sweep of the Brooklyn Nets, who were 28-54 a season ago.
That said, it had to be humorous for NBA fans in other locales to watch as a Twitter beef that began last month between Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie and Knicks center Enes Kanter soon extended into the fan bases of both clubs.
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It is a rivalry that has heated up considerably since the Nets returned to New York from New Jersey in 2012, but it hasn’t exactly been a battle of heavyweights for most of that span.
The Knicks are five years removed from their last playoff berth in 2013 and fired coach Jeff Hornacek after two seasons in which the Knicks were sliding backwards from the 32 wins under Derek Fisher and interim coach Kurt Rambis in 2015-16 to 31 in 2016-17 and 29 last season.
Into the breach steps David Fizdale, who was fired 19 games into his second season with the Memphis Grizzlies last November after the club got off to a 7-12 start.
The Grizzlies went just 15-48 after the firing of Fizdale, so there may have been more problems in Memphis than just the head coach.
Fizdale’s biggest immediate challenge is navigating the Knicks through the continued absence of Kristaps Porzingis, the All-Star unicorn who tore his left ACL on Feb. 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks and remains out indefinitely.
When Porzingis returns is very up in the air, with most projections saying February — in line with the usual 12-month recovery period for a knee reconstruction.
Without Porzingis, New York’s top returning offensive threat is shooting guard Tim Hardaway, who averaged 17.5 points per game last season, but missed 25 games with a stress fracture in his left leg and a sprained ankle.
The Knicks lost some bench punch when Michael Beasley bolted to join the LeBron James bandwagon with the Los Angeles Lakers and it’s expected Courtney Lee‘s minutes will shrink, as Fizdale wants to move Hardaway back to the 2 spot to get more size at the 3.
That size could be represented by No. 9 overall pick Kevin Knox, who at 6-foot-9 and 216 pounds is a considerably larger presence at the 3 than the 6-foot-6, 205-pound Hardaway.
As for Porzingis’ minutes at the 4? The Knicks have a collection of large bodies in Luke Kornet, Noah Vonleh, two-way contract holder Isaiah Hicks and bulky Lance Thomas and someone will have to play those minutes, because it’s still a 5-on-5 league.
The point guard position is unsettled, with second-year Frank Ntilikina potentially ready to move to the top of the depth chart over former lottery pick Emmanuel Mudiay and reclamation project Trey Burke, who played very well in 36 games after being re-signed by the Knicks in January.
So New York still has a lot of fluidity on its roster and is closer to remaining in the lottery than it is returning to the playoffs.
But Fizdale, still only 44, was a highly regarded assistant with the Miami Heat for eight years before getting a chance to be a head coach with the Grizzlies and took an injury-riddled team to 43 wins in 2016-17 before more injuries forced the bottom out of the box last season.
29-53, 11th in Eastern Conference
104.5 PPG (18th), 108.0 OPPG (20th)
107.1 Offensive Rating (20th), 110.7 Defensive Rating (23rd)
Team Leaders (minimum 42 games/82 3-pointers made)
Scoring: Kristaps Porzingis 22.7 PPG
Rebounding: Enes Kanter 11.0 RPG
Assists: Jarrett Jack 5.6 APG
Steals: Tim Hardaway 1.1 SPG
Blocks: Kristaps Porzingis 2.4 BPG
3-point shooting: Courtney Lee 40.6 pct.
Kristaps Porzingis (All-Star Game, replaced due to injury)
Kadeem Allen, G
Ron Baker, G
Trey Burke, G
Damyean Dotson, G
Tim Hardaway, G
Mario Hezonja, F-G
Isaiah Hicks, F (two-way)
Enes Kanter, C
Kevin Knox, F
Luke Kornet, F
Courtney Lee, G
Emmanuel Mudiay, G
Joakim Noah, C
Frank Ntilikina, G
Kristaps Porzingis, F-C
Mitchell Robinson, C
Lance Thomas, F
Allonzo Trier, G (two-way)
Noah Vonleh, F
Kevin Knox (draft), Mitchell Robinson (draft), Allonzo Trier (undrafted free agent, two-way, July 3), Mario Hezonja (free agent, Orlando, July 6), Niah Vonleh (free agent, Chicago, July 24), Kadeem Allen (street free agent, July 25).
Against the Brooklyn Nets
Last season (home team in CAPS)
Oct. 27: KNICKS 107, Nets 86
Dec. 14: Knicks 111, NETS 104
Jan. 15: Knicks 119, NETS 104
Jan. 30: KNICKS 111, Nets 95
Oct. 19: at Brooklyn
Oct. 29: at New York
Dec. 8: at New York
Jan. 25: at Brooklyn
Projected Depth Chart
C: Enes Kanter, Mitchell Robinson, Luke Kornet, Joakim Noah
PF: Mario Hezonja, Noah Vonleh, Kristaps Porzingis
SF: Kevin Knox, Courtney Lee, Lance Thomas
SG: Tim Hardaway, Frank Ntilikina, Damyean Dotson
PG: Trey Burke, Emmanuel Mudiay, Ron Baker, Kadeem Allen
The Knicks are quite a collection of young pieces, old pieces and pieces that just don’t quite seem to fit anywhere.
Hardaway will have to shoulder much of the offensive load until Porzingis is back, while Knox — who showed potential as a scorer in Summer League play even as his shot was off more often than on — learns the league.
The cleanup from the ill-fated Phil Jackson as front-office decision-maker experiment will be extensive and will take some time, but the Knicks appear to have put together an excellent draft and have some hope for down the line.
It all hinges on how well and how completely Porzingis is able to come back from his knee injury, however, and that won’t happen for at least half a season, most likely.
Projected Record: 28-54