By Jason Keidel
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A few weeks ago I asked the five boroughs and beyond if anyone noticed or cared that pertinent basketball were being played in New York City. My goal was to see if we could drop the Knicks in the drawer of irrelevance, where they belong, and give the Nets some needed love for a week or two.
And I was told to take a hike.
What about now? Not only did the Nets nudge by the stout and stubborn Toronto Raptors, but they’ve actually made a series of it against the Miami Heat.
Fans figured the 4-0 season series sweep the Nets put on Miami was meaningless, a mirage for those who thought the four wins would translate into the playoffs. Maybe. But no matter how ephemeral the success was, the Nets did whip the Heat this weekend, snapping Miami’s eight-game playoff wining streak, a franchise record.
Still want to talk Knicks? About the white-hot contract negotiations between Phil Jackson and Steve Kerr? Reports say the two are about to strike a deal, after weeks of courting and calls and numbers scratched on napkins and slid across a dinner table. Fascinating!
The Jackson championship algorithm of the last 25 years has way too many variables now. If you don’t have the hardwood Batman and Robin — Michael and Scottie, or Shaq and Kobe — no alchemy will equal victory. Not for a team as cursed as the Knicks.
Let’s see how the Knicks fare with Phil and an eternally hobbled Amar’e Stoudemire, an aging Tyson Chandler, and machine-gunner Carmelo Anthony, who can score with and on anyone, but is historically allergic to assists and defense. No, these aren’t the 1990 Bulls or 2000 Lakers.
The quintessential retort from Knicks fans is “Phil Jackson is better than what we had, an automatic upgrade.”
Perhaps. Jackson has coached many a champion, but never built one. And with another Jackson (Mark) on the market, it’s hard to fathom the obsession with Kerr, who hasn’t stalked the sidelines and did a lousy job running the Phoenix Suns, trading for a Mesozoic Shaq whose wheels had lost all air, on a team renowned for their frenzied, fast-break offense.
We’ve been told that Mark and Phil Jackson would be the vocational equivalent of rubbing two magnets together, that they’re not spiritually aligned and the young, gifted coach can’t run the triangle. So, winning 51 games in the infernal Western Conference doesn’t matter if you can’t measure the Zen Master’s hardwood hypotenuse? Talent starts at the top, and Mark Jackson is, to many of us, the best young coach in the league.
Another fine, former point guard is coaching well and well into the playoffs. That would be Jason Kidd. Morons like me called for his vocational head when the Nets staggered out of the gate, ten games under .500 in December. Before the ink dried on his retirement papers, he signed up for the rigors of an NBA head coach.
He paid no dues sitting next to a more experienced and hardened head coach, and it felt like he was more colleague than coach to the veterans like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who are far more contemporaries than subordinates. In May he was battling them, and in October he was leading them. It felt rushed, a notch in Mikhail Prokhorov’s celebrity tool belt. But just as he did as a player, Kidd has proven us wrong.
You can argue Erik Spoelstra is schooling Kidd in this series. But it’s more accurate to assert he has LeBron James and J-Kidd doesn’t, which has been an unbreakable formula for the last two years. And few people doubt King James is storming toward to a third crown, halfway toward the man to whom he’s most compared, Michael Jordan.
New Yorkers should dig the Net narrative, especially in the wake of the Rangers, who have crawled out of their grave to tie their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. There’s some scintillating postseason theater in the Big Apple. And it doesn’t include the Knicks, because it never does.
We’ve heard that these are the best playoffs in decades, if not ever. Believe it or not, that includes the Nets. And they have done something that hasn’t happened since last year: whip the Heat in a playoff game. And they happen to play in the borough of Brooklyn.
And they are something the Knicks are not: Relevant.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel
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